Sunday, October 14, 2007

The stop-loss catch

-- by Dave

This week we got the heart-warming news that the Army expects to continue its stop-loss policy for the foreseeable future:
The Army will likely continue employing a controversial “stop-loss” policy intended to keep soldiers in war zones beyond their original commitments due to demands placed on the troops, according to Secretary of the Army Peter Geren.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a directive earlier this year to minimize and eventually eliminate the use of stop-loss. But the Army cannot easily predict when it can do away with the controversial practice, which is keeping 8,000 soldiers in the service beyond the end of their enlistment, according to Geren.

“With the demand on the force that we have today, we are unable to not use stop-loss, in order to make sure that we are able to deploy fully manned and trained and properly prepared brigades to the theater,” Geren said Monday during a press conference at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army. “With the increase in the length of deployments, it increases the number of soldiers on stop-loss.”

Geren stressed that the trend of employing stop loss has gone down over the last couple of years. The policy allows the Pentagon to keep soldiers on — even when their enlistment is due to expire — if it needs to maintain troop strength and unit integrity. The practice has garnered widespread congressional criticism and brought several lawsuits from members of the military.

The "stop-loss" policy, for those new to post-9/11 military realities, is the fine print that's in that contract you sign when you join up for duty in the armed forces these days. It's essentially a clause for indentured servitude -- one that lets the military keep you on board even after the service you thought you'd signed up for has expired.

There have been lawsuits attempting to halt the policy, but the Bush-friendly courts have found them perfectly legal.

What's especially appalling about the policy is the deceptiveness of it all. Patriotic citizens sign up for duty only to find that it means they're essentially signing away all their rights. Consider, for instance that the Department of Defense is claiming that they can keep their current troops under their control for the next 25 years, as some dismayed soldiers have discovered:
Making it all the stranger is that the Army presented him with a new contract that extended his service until 2031. Army spokesperson Hart says the date was arbitrary, meant to allow for "wiggle room." Says Santiago, looking at another 27 years in the Army over and above the eight he signed up for: "It's crazy."

A similar story in Rolling Stone explored this further:
David Qualls, who joined the Arkansas National Guard for a year, is one of 40,000 troops in Iraq who have been informed that their enlistment has been extended until December 24th, 2031. "I've served five months past my one-year obligation," says Qualls, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the military with breach of contract. "It's time to let me go back to my life. It's a question of fairness, and not only for myself. This is for the thousands of other people that are involuntarily extended in Iraq. Let us go home."

The Army insists that most "stop-lossed" soldiers will be held on the front lines for no longer than eighteen months. But Jules Lobel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing eight National Guardsmen in a lawsuit challenging the extensions, says the 2031 date is being used to strong-arm volunteers into re-enlisting. According to Lobel, the military is telling soldiers, "We're giving you a chance to voluntarily re-enlist -- and if you don't do it, we'll screw you. And the first way we'll screw you is to put you in until 2031."

The latest announcement at least acknowledges that the policy is unpopular, but no doubt they don't dare end it because they need the bodies. And the war is going so swimmingly, after all.

No comments: