Jules Lobel, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, is one of three lawyers suing the federal government on behalf of eight U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait who are trying to free themselves from further service in the second Iraq War.
Five have served past the end of their enlistment contracts, which vary from three to eight years; the remaining three signed up for the Army National Guard under the military's "Try-One" program, which allows those with former service to join the Guard for a year before deciding whether to make a further commitment. All eight servicemen are being kept involuntarily on duty under the government's "stop-loss" program, created in 1983 but used minimally until now.
"If they're applying the stop-loss to these people," says Lobel, "it's a fraudulent inducement to get them into a contract."
Lobel and his co-counsels work for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, a legal and educational non-profit that generally handles progressive causes. Lobel is the author of Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America, reviewed in City Paper on March 4.
Lobel expects the lawsuit to go forward in federal district court in Washington, D.C., in several weeks, and expects more such suits elsewhere in the country. Only one soldier is allowing his name to be used in the current suit: David W. Qualls, an Arkansas National Guard member.
You've stated publicly that this suit has nothing to do with being against the current Iraq War.
Mr. Qualls is not against the war, but he thinks this is about honoring your commitment. He honored his commitment. He thinks the government should honor theirs.
Are any of these servicemen in the anti-war camp?
They may be, they may not be. We really haven't discussed it with them. They're anti-unfairness, that's what they are. They're anti-deception. They feel the government deceived them.
Has a case like this ever been brought?
There are now a number of cases that have been brought -- two in California, one in Oregon. There hasn't been a final decision in any of these cases. The difference: In this case, these are eight people from different backgrounds who are already in Iraq or Kuwait and whose contract had already been extended.
Are they in combat now?
Yeah, exactly. They're all in combat situations of some sort.
And they're anonymous because they fear the reaction of others in their units?
Yeah, they are very afraid of retribution if their name becomes public.
In Success Without Victory, you say that even losing cases can set useful precedents for future victories. Do you see that happening in this case?
That's hard to speculate on. I think we have a very good case and we just might win. Even more important is the effect that eight soldiers on active duty, in the theater of war, coming forward and suing the government, has had on public opinion. Even if we ultimately lose in the courts, I think we've already won in the court of public opinion. USA Today wrote an editorial on [Dec. 11] criticizing the stop-loss program. By bringing it out to the public, what the military is doing here, it puts pressure on the military to stop what is a very unfair policy. It seems to me that this [suit] is symbolic of the general problem, which is they're not telling these guys what is really going on, which is that when they sign up they can be held indefinitely. The government, when it goes to war, has an obligation to be honest with the public and particularly the soldiers when it calls upon them to fight.