The parents of a Marine who is in solitary confinement while the military investigates the killing of an Iraqi civilian said Saturday that they fear that he is receiving harsh treatment because of politics.
Pfc. John Jodka III is in the brig at Camp Pendleton pending charges in the April 26 killing of an apparently unarmed man in the Iraqi town of Hamandiya.
His parents, who say their 20-year-old son has been in shackles when they visited him, accuse the Marine Corps of making an example of their son and others because of criticism that it was slow to investigate earlier killings in the town of Haditha.
“It appears to me that this is the reaction of some senior people to show ‘we’re in charge, we’re cleaning up our act,’ ” John Jodka Jr. said. He said he believes that the generals figure, “If a few privates and corporals have to take it, that’s the price of keeping my stars.”
Six other Marines and a Navy corpsman, all part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, are also being held at Camp Pendleton. Charges are expected to include murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.
The military is also investigating the Nov. 19 killing in Haditha of 24 Iraqis, including women and children.
A Marine Corps spokesman denied that the treatment of Jodka and the others is influenced by the earlier case. “Haditha is totally separate,” he said.
In the Haditha case, which involves a different battalion, the military has been criticized for not investigating until Time magazine undercut the Marines’ original account of the attack.
Now investigators believe the Iraqis were killed by Marines without provocation, some execution-style. But the Marines in the Haditha case are not in the brig.
Officials familiar with the Hamandiya investigation, including Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a retired Marine colonel and leading critic of the Iraq war, say an unarmed 52-year-old man was dragged from his home in the middle of the night.
They assert that he was killed without provocation and that the troops then left a shovel and an AK-47 near the body to suggest he was an insurgent caught planting a roadside bomb. But defense attorneys have not yet seen the evidence.
Jodka said he could not believe his son did anything wrong.
“I know my son,” said Jodka, 44, a parts buyer for a major shipbuilding company. “He’s the epitome of a true-blue, ready-to-go, high-speed Marine rifleman.”
San Diego attorney Jeremiah J. Sullivan III, who represents the unnamed 20-year-old Navy corpsman in the case, told reporters last week that the investigation began when Iraqis came to the military seeking monetary compensation for the death.
(In the 2005 fiscal year, the U.S. made more than $19 million in “condolence payments” to Iraqis for deaths, injuries or property loss. The payments are made without admitting fault.)
To a large degree, John Jodka does not fit the common mold of the Corps’ enlisted ranks, which are often filled with the sons of blue-collar families for whom college was not an easy option. His parents are professionals living in this upscale San Diego suburb. He was attending UC Riverside when he decided to enlist.
Carolyn Jodka, 44, a scientist with a pharmaceutical firm, said she was shocked when her son came home from college after his first quarter and announced that he had enlisted.
He graduated from boot camp in San Diego last July and was sent to Iraq in January.
“Initially he was very excited to go, very committed to the mission, eager to do the job,” Carolyn Jodka said. “But after a few months, the reality set in: ‘This isn’t what I expected.’ ”
She worries that her son and his colleagues are going to be “political pawns” as the U.S. tries to placate officials in the Iraqi government on the issue of the continuing death toll of Iraqis.
At the brig, she and her son can visit only with a glass shield between them and a Marine guard nearby. Still, her son looks strong, she said.
“He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Mom, you have nothing to worry about. I’ll walk out a free man,’ ” she said. “I just hope that’s the case.”