- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

In times of war, the Pentagon can keep servicemen on duty as it deems necessary, in accordance with enlistment contracts and limits imposed by the law. That’s what the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia affirmed on Monday when it ruled in an opinion by U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth against eight plaintiffs challenging the Pentagon’s so-called stop-loss policy. From the outset, the suit was largely symbolic.

Spc. David Qualls, an Arkansas Guardsman currently in Iraq and the only plaintiff to reveal his name, never showed the court the enlistment contract he said failed to notify him of possible extensions. He instead gave a photocopied version which, the court concluded, simply omitted the pages on which applicable U.S. law was disclosed.

The court examined the standard contract and found the relevant passages: “a member of a Reserve Component of an Armed Force at the beginning of a period of war or national emergency declared by Congress, or if [he] become a member during that period, [his] military service may be extended without [his] consent until six (6) months after the end of that period of war.”

Since a state of national emergency has existed throughout Spc. Qualls’s enlistment, the court reasoned, the contract “indeed put Qualls on notice that the Army might involuntarily extend his term of service.” It then affirmed a key Army position: “Nowhere in the enlistment contract does the Army forfeit its right to involuntarily extend enlistees pursuant to United States laws.”

So the court upheld the Army’s right to bind servicemen to extended duty if war should require it. That opinion makes prudential sense: If stop-loss had been found inapplicable in Spc. Qualls’s clear-cut case, then the Army’s contracts with many other servicemen would also be undermined. That would “present the possibility of substantial disruption and diversion of military resources,” the court found.

The court weighed the interests of the servicemen and the interests of the public. In one particularly moving passage, it said that Spc. Qualls, “like other military personnel in Iraq, puts his life on the line every day and faces a great risk of harm and death as a result of his continuing service.”

Military life is unpredictable, and more so during times of war. The stop-loss policy is yet another reminder of that fact.

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