Army's 'Stop-Loss' Policy Still Stands

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the Army's right to force soldiers to serve past the dates of their enlistments, the so-called "stop loss" policy (search) that can keep men and women in uniform during war or national emergencies.

Spc. David Qualls had sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Army from forcing him to remain on active duty, claiming his enlistment (search) contract was misleading. He signed up for a one-year stint in the Arkansas National Guard in July 2003 but was later told he would remain on active duty in Iraq until 2005.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth (search) for the District of Columbia said the enlistment contract does notify those who sign up that the government could extend their terms of service. While acknowledging minimal harm to the Army if he ordered Qualls released, Lamberth said similar claims could lead to substantial disruption and diversion of military resources.

The enlistments of an estimated 7,000 active-duty soldiers have been extended under the policy, which the Army says is needed to provide experienced soldiers for battle. As many as 40,000 reserve soldiers could be ordered to stay longer.

Qualls and seven other soldiers serving in Iraq or en route to Iraq had asked the judge to order the Army to release them from service immediately. They contended the enlistment contracts make no explicit reference to the stop loss policy.

The government maintained that the enlistment contract provided that soldiers may be involuntarily ordered to active duty in case of war, national emergency or any other condition required by law, which the government contended would include extensions of existing contracts.

Qualls was ordered in December to return to Iraq while Lamberth reviewed his lawsuit. In January, Qualls volunteered for another six-year stint in the Guard.