By Richard Muhammad
Straightwords e-zine

Suit challenges Defense Department stop loss policy

A lawsuit filed in federal court in the Northern District of California is challenging the Defense Department’s controversial “stop loss” policy, which keeps servicemen in the armed forces beyond their contractual dates for active military discharge.

The suit was filed on behalf of John Doe, a married reservist in the California Army National Guard with two children. The decorated military vet has served a tour of duty in Iraq and his current one-year stint expires in December. A stop loss order, however, would extend his term for two years and send him back to Iraq with his unit. The soldier’s real name was not used to protect him from any retaliation.


“This lawsuit seeks to stop the forced retention of men and women like John Doe, who have already fulfilled their service obligation to the country. Their enlistments should have ended, and they should now be entitled to return to their families,” said Atty. Michael Sorgen. John Doe chose a limited one-year commitment in the reserves, in large part, to spend time with his family, his lawyers explained. Thousands of servicemen have been subjected to stop loss orders, which come with little notice and no extra benefits.

John Doe’s lawsuit argues the stop loss policy doesn’t apply to enlisted personnel. It further argues that the order is only valid in a time of war legally declared by Congress and that constitutional protections prohibit the Army from simply holding soldiers hostage. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Army Secretary Les Brownlee and John Doe’s company commander are among defendants in the lawsuit. It was filed Aug. 17.

“What’s particularly insulting about this whole stop loss thing is that when you got a military which is disproportionately African American and other racial minority groups, and you’ve got people who are staying beyond their agreed upon limit in the military, what do you call that? In a different century that would have been called slavery,” said Andy Thayer, of the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism.

President George Bush has compounded the insult of taking the country to war based on lies by trying to keep soldiers in the military, Mr. Thayer said. Stop loss is part of a total failed policy, he argued. It includes military families being forced onto food stamps and returning veterans losing jobs because of extended deployments, he explained.

“Perhaps, over 100,000 servicemen have been subjected to stop loss, since the program started. Tens of thousands may well have had their enlistments already extended and others may remain subject to stop loss, but haven’t yet had their enlistments extended,” said Atty. Joshua Sondheimer, a lawyer for John Doe. The government seems to think that there is no limit to how many times stop loss orders can be used, he added.

Stop loss orders have been called a “back door draft,” given that servicemen cannot decline Uncle Sam’s invitation. It applies to those whose tours of duty expire and to those who should be eligible for retirement.

The military is saying whatever soldiers signed up for is meaningless, observed Nancy Lessin, of Military Families Speak Out. Many soldiers feel betrayed and complain of tremendous pressure, said Ms. Lessin, whose 1,600-member national organization is composed of loved ones in the armed services.

“The ability of the military to issue stop loss orders is being used to get soldiers to ‘voluntarily re-enlist,’ it’s not voluntary at all,” she added. Soldiers have been told “you can re-enlist, and if you do, we’ll make sure you have some duties, but they’ll be in the United States, you won’t be going back to Iraq. But if you do not re-enlist, we are going to stop loss, you can make sure that you go back to Iraq,” she said.  

Atty. Sondheimer expects the initial petition against stop loss to be dealt with over the next month. He expects to appeal any judicial loss, and expects more soldiers to challenge the stop loss policy.