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Letter to The Honorable Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense

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Location: Washington, DC


Letter to The Honorable Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense

Kerry Demands Answers from Pentagon on KBR Providing Dirty Water to Troops in Iraq

Sen. John Kerry sent a letter to the Pentagon today, demanding to know how unsafe water was given to troops in Iraq by defense contractor KBR Inc. and what steps are being taken to prevent a recurrence. According to an Inspector General report to be released shortly, American troops serving in Iraq were using substandard water for cleaning and bathing, which may have contributed to many of them falling ill and suffering from severe skin illnesses in the field.

"The Pentagon needs to provide immediate answers about such a basic failure to provide for America's troops, and the steps that have been taken to guarantee that this kind of wrongdoing will never be repeated," said Kerry. "Our troops should never have to worry about the water their government gives them while they are serving in a war zone. Our men and women in uniform and the families who love them deserve to know why KBR failed them while this corporation lined its pockets with no-bid contracts. The DOD also needs to explain whether they believe KBR should receive one more dime of the taxpayers' money after this extraordinary failure to keep faith with our troops."

Below is the text of Kerry's letter:

March 10, 2008

The Honorable Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310

I am writing with serious concerns about the most recent revelation that the U.S. government and its defense contractors are failing to provide our troops in Iraq with clean water. I request you use this opportunity to clarify exactly what steps the Department of Defense (DoD) and KBR Inc. (KBR) have taken to resolve this longstanding problem and prevent its recurrence.

According to a DoD Inspector General report to be released this week, dozens of soldiers fell sick between January 2004 and February 2006 due to "unmonitored and potentially unsafe" water supplied by KBR. Water used for washing, bathing, shaving and cleaning apparently did not meet minimum safety standards set forth in military regulations. KBR reportedly failed to perform quality control tests, resulting in the use of unsafe water by our troops. KBR's failure to do its job may have resulted in soldiers receiving skin abscesses, cellulitis, skin infections, diarrhea and other illnesses.

Obviously, this is unacceptable — but it is especially troubling because this is not the first time that KBR has been suspected of wrongdoing. As you know, KBR and Halliburton, its former parent company, have been the subject of numerous federal and congressional investigations for alleged war profiteering and questionable dealings in Iraq.

This latest episode of suspected contractor wrongdoing demands answers. Specifically, I request answers to the following critical questions:

* Why was DoD not previously aware of this water safety issue until January 2006?
* How did DoD and KBR initially respond when made aware of this problem?
* Were potentially affected soldiers and personnel at the five sites in Iraq promptly contacted about the water contamination?
* What steps have been taken to ensure that future inspections reveal any breaches of critical water safety standards?
* How does DoD assess the current quality of the water that our troops are using on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan?

This last question is particularly important given that our troops deployed at military sites in Iraq reported failures by KBR to perform required quality control tests and maintain appropriate records after the problem was allegedly rectified.

As you know, there has long been a struggle between Congress and this Administration regarding the oversight of wartime contracting. President Bush went so far as to use a recent presidential signing statement to oppose congressional efforts at oversight of contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This most recent revelation exemplifies why many of us have long harbored concerns about the oversight, accountability, and transparency of wartime contracting — and underscores why the Administration must provide clear answers on this issue where the health and safety of our troops has been compromised.

Thank you for your serious and timely consideration of this request. I look forward to hearing from you on this critical issue.

Sincerely,

John Kerry


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