Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth was taking a shower in the barracks of a military installation in Iraq last year when he was jolted with electricity and died; the Houston-based military contractor KBR had installed the pumps and water tanks for the shower, and the Defense Department’s inspector general report recently found that the contractor -- as well as the military -- had exposed the soldier to “unacceptable risk,” reports the Associated Press.

Mistakes happen in war, but the troublesome part is that errors, even fatal ones, remain hidden when contractors are involved. For example, when Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota tried to look into the cases of National Guard soldiers who had been exposed to carcinogens while guarding a KBR-run water plant in southern Iraq in 2003, the military stalled its investigation for months. This was even after the battalion commander was diagnosed with a fatal form of nasal cancer.

“Soldiers are dying. You would think the Defense Department would need no prodding,” Dorgan told me. “It’s unbelievable to me what the DOD has done to sweep this under the rug.”

Despite the myriad problems that contractors have had in Iraq, they are given a wide berth while they are operating in that country. And increasingly, soldiers are paying the price.

--Tara McKelvey