01:42 PM PDT on Wednesday, April 6, 2005
By RAY LANE / KING 5 News
SEATTLE - The Pentagon’s “stop-loss” policy is the subject of a federal appeals court hearing Wednesday in Seattle.
A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit hears four different cases Wednesday. At issue is whether the Pentagon’s “stop-loss” policy, which keeps National Guardsmen in the Army longer than they want to be, is legal.
The main case being heard Wednesday at the University of Washington law school centers on 27-year old Emiliano Santiago, an Oregon National Guardsman now living in Pasco, Wash.
Santiago’s eight-year enlistment ended last June, but two weeks before he was set to get out, the Army crafted new plans to send him to Afghanistan. The Army then reset his military termination date to December 2031.
That's when he decided to go to court.
"I want the government to be fair," said Santiago. "I signed a contract for eight straight years."
While Wednesday’s decision will be made in the 9th Circuit Court, it could have a far reaching impact. The Army’s controversial policy affects about 40,000 soldiers across the country.
Three and a half years ago, the Army implemented “stop loss” to ensure reserve units ordered to active duty would not lose key personnel.
Soldiers say it's just not fair, while Pentagon officials say their extended service is a matter of national security.
"It no where says that it guarantees a release date either," said Thomas Byron, lawyer with the Justice Department. Byron said Santiago's contract was for eight years, but it didn't promise a release date.
"What young man or woman is going to be willing to sign up," argued Steve Goldberg, lawyer for Santiago. Goldberg said Santiago was willing to give eight of years of his life to the military, but was told instead "to give it all to the military."
"It will adversely affect recruitment," added Goldberg.
Critics of the Army's policy, which includes Republican Senator John McCain, consider “stop-loss” a backdoor draft used to make up for manpower shortages that the Pentagon will not own up to.
Santiago’s unit has already been sent to Afghanistan, and he is set to leave this weekend. His lawyers are fighting that deployment by seeking a preliminary injunction.
The judges are expected to deliver a ruling several months from now. Any of the cases could still go before the entire 9th Circuit, even the U.S. Supreme Court.