On December 6, 2004, eight U.S. soldiers – five stationed in Iraq, two in Kuwait on their way to Iraq, and one home on leave from Iraq about to be shipped back – filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Armed Services’ so-called “stop loss” policy which would require them to serve beyond their enlistment contracts. CCR Vice President Jules Lobel and cooperating attorney Staughton Lynd are representing Specialist E-4 David W. Qualls and seven anonymous (“John Doe”) plaintiffs who are seeking a court order requiring their immediate release from military service. The suit was brought against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee, and Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Reginald Brown.
Specialist Qualls and John Does 1 through 6 have each served out their full contracts but are being forced to extend their service. Specialist Qualls and John Does 1 and 2 had enlisted in the “Try One” program of the Army National Guard, which allows a veteran “to serve for only one year on a trial basis before committing to full enlistment.” The enlistment contract of John Does 3 through 6 provided for termination of their service prior to the date of the filing of this lawsuit. John Doe 7’s term of service is scheduled to expire in April 2005, but he has been ordered to active duty and informed that he should expect that duty to last another year and a half.
On July 7, 2003, Specialist Qualls, whose military training is in communications, enlisted in the “Try One” program in hopes of becoming a commissioned officer. According to his contract, his term of service should have ended one year later, and he signed it with that expectation. Indeed, the staff sergeant who recruited him stated that Specialist Qualls would serve for 12 months; nothing was mentioned about “stop loss” or about a possible rotation in Iraq.
Nonetheless, in March of 2004, Specialist Qualls found himself in Taji, Iraq, where he has been stationed ever since. Despite the fact that he lacked any “military occupation specialty (MOS)” authorized by the Brigade he was assigned to, Qualls found himself performing duties including sand bag detail and guard duty. Located 15 miles north of Baghdad, Camp Taji has sustained numerous suicide bombing attacks as well as conventional attacks from mortars and rockets. It is the destination to which 18 members of a South Carolina-based company refused to drive in October, claiming that to do so would be suicide.
“I believe I served my country honorably,” said Specialist Qualls, who describes himself as a supporter of the war. “Even though I did not expect to be rotated to Iraq, I did my time and served to the best of my ability. And I was proud to serve. But the Army made an agreement with me and I expected them to honor it. Iraq is a very dangerous place and I have a family to support. I did what I said I would; it’s only fair that the Army do the same.”
Qualls’s family has suffered greatly from his absence. Since his deployment to Iraq, his take home pay has been reduced by approximately 80 percent. His wife cannot make payments on their home or family vehicles. Both his wife and daughter have experienced stress since his extended service in Iraq and are taking medication as a result. Mrs. Qualls unsuccessfully applied for a hardship discharge for her husband.
Jules Lobel, Vice-President of the Center for Constitutional Rights and counsel to the plaintiffs called the Army’s stop loss policy “a fraud perpetrated on men and women who have sacrificed their normal lives to serve our country. Our Government has not been honest with Mr. Qualls and the other 7 plaintiffs in this action. In fact, it has fraudulently and misleadingly induced Qualls and others to join the Guard and then subjected them to a classic bait and switch operation. Neither the Courts, nor the American people should tolerate such dishonesty.”
CCR co-operating attorney and counsel to the plaintiffs Staughton Lynd said, “This issue should unite people who support the war and people who oppose it, Red States and Blue States. Whatever we may think about the war, it is wrong to recruit young people to take part in it without telling them what they are getting into.”
The attorneys are seeking a temporary restraining order directing the defendants not to require Specialist Qualls to return to Iraq by December 12, 2004, as his present orders mandate. They also seek a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering all plaintiffs to be released from military service immediately.