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2004-12-07

Soldiers Prevented From Returning Home Sue Over "Stop-Loss" Policy As Others Forced Out of Military Sue Over "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" Policy

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Eight soldiers stationed in Iraq and Kuwait are filing a lawsuit against the Army’s stop-loss policy while 12 former soldiers forced out of the military are filing a lawsuit against the Pentagon’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. [includes rush transcript]

Last week, the US military announced it is sending 12,000 more troops to Iraq. The additional troops will bring the total number deployed in the country to 150,000–the highest level since the US occupation began more than 18 months ago.

Thousands of those soldiers have been prevented from returning home by the Army’s stop-loss policy even though they fulfilled their agreed-upon commitment. Now, eight soldiers stationed in Iraq and Kuwait are filing a lawsuit against the stop-loss policy.

And while the military is preventing thousands of soldiers from leaving, at the same time, soldiers who want to remain active are being forced out. In another lawsuit, 12 former soldiers are suing against the Pentagon’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. The plaintiffs were all forced out of the military because of their homosexuality.

Today we are going to discuss both of these lawsuits.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’ll discuss both lawsuits with Steve Ralls, director of communications for the Service Members Legal Defense Network and Jules Lobel, Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Jules, let’s start with you — the soldiers that want to come home that can’t?

JULES LOBEL: Well they have been recruited under a dishonest policy where the government tells them, you’re going to be in for a certain number of years, in my case, the lead plaintiff was told he was going to be in for one year under a tri-1 recruitment program in which soldiers who are veterans can join the National Guard for a trial one-year period after which they’re told they can decide whether to reenlist. Well, David joined for one year. He was mobilized to Iraq, he served in Iraq and at the end of the year, he said my time is up, it’s time to go home and they told him no, you’re here indefinitely. In fact, his pay stub says that he will be in the military until estimated December 24, 2031. So, he’ll be home by Christmas of 2031 and it’s a — when these people go down and get recruited, nobody tells them that they can be stop-lossed, that their enlistment can be extended. There is nothing in their enlistment contract that says they can be extended and it’s simply dishonest. It is fraudulent recruiting. And if we’re going to recruit soldiers and send them off to war, at the least we can do is be honest with them and tell them how long their enlistment really is for and the government is not doing that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, on the one hand, they’re saying that the soldiers have to go back to Iraq or stay in Iraq. On the other hand, they’re saying some soldiers cannot go to Iraq or must leave and those are gay men and lesbians. Since the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy took effect, this was under President Clinton in 1994, 10,000 service members have been discharged from the Armed Forces for being gay. Last year alone, 787 service members were discharged on those grounds. Steve Ralls, tell us about your lawsuit.

STEVE RALLS: Sure. We have filed suit in the District Court in Massachusetts on behalf of a dozen former service members, all of whom were discharged for being gay or lesbian and all of whom want to return to service. They are asking for no monetary compensation and no reward other than to go back to the military and resume the position that they left when they were fired for being gay.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t there some way to work something out? The people who want to go home, go home and those that want to go, like those that you are advising at the Service Members Legal Defense Network, go?

STEVE RALLS: It seems very ironic that there are those who want to leave and the Pentagon is fighting them and those who want to stay and the Pentagon is fighting them as well. These are 12 men and women who would happily take the place of 12 that wouldn’t want to serve right now. They’re very anxious to go back in and they’re prepared and ready to go fight.

JULES LOBEL: Maybe Steve and I could work out a deal here.

STEVE RALLS: I think we could swap a few places.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Steve Ralls, can you describe one story of one of the people you’re recommending?

STEVE RALLS: Sure. Dr. Monica Hill is a former Air Force Captain who was scheduled to report for duty in 2001 and just a few days before reporting for that duty, she learned that her partner of 14 years had been diagnosed with terminally ill brain cancer. She asked the military for a deferment to care for her partner; had she been married to a man, that deferment would have been almost automatically approved. But because the military learned that Monica had a same-sex partner, rather than granting that deferment so she could care for her, they instead initiated an investigation, accused Dr. Hill of making up her partner’s illness to avoid military service, and then later discharged her completely from the Air Force.

AMY GOODMAN: Jules Lobel, one of your stories of the people you represent who want to come home.

JULES LOBEL: Well, I represent a soldier in Arkansas who has an independent trucking business and signed up for the National Guard. He actually wanted to be an officer. And they said the only way you can be an officer is if you sign up, give it a year and try this, try one program. And if you don’t become an officer, you can leave. Well, within a couple of months, they said he couldn’t become an officer. He wanted to leave then, but he said I made a commitment to serve for a year. I’ll honor my commitment. They send them to Iraq. He is in Camp Taji, which is the place that the platoon — the group of soldiers refused to go on a suicide mission. He’s faced with mortar attacks, suicide bombers, but he’s stayed there. Meanwhile, his wife and 18-year-old daughter are on anti-depressants, they don’t have the money to pay for their house payments and he says I made my commitment, I fulfilled my end of the bargain, now the military should fulfill their end of the commitment. And the military says we’re not going to. You’re here indefinitely.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, Victoria Clarke, the former spokesperson for the Pentagon, who’s now a CNN consultant, was on Paula Zahn Now and she was asked about this and she said, "I think we need some perspective on this issue. The first part of it is why the policy exists, why you have stop-loss. It is because especially in a time of war you need to have the right people and the right jobs at the right time. Continuity is key." She said, "We learned that from Vietnam is that you don’t pull out people right when they’ve acquired the skills they need to be effective in keeping units together." We only have 10 seconds. Jules Lobel, respond.

JULES LOBEL: David is not using his skills. He is classified as excess. He’s sitting around just doing, you know, basic guard duty and things like that. That is a phony reason.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll link to your websites and these court cases that are being filed now. Steve Ralls, with Service Members Legal Defense Network, and Jules Lobel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, both suing the military.

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