Beating the Back-Door Draft

Legal advice for reservists caught in the Iraq 'stop-loss' trap

Texas Army National Guard member Carl Webb made headlines recently when he got caught up in the Pentagon's "stop-loss" policy, which forces national guardsmen and reservists to extend their enlistments in times of "national emergency." Webb opposes the Iraq War and hardly views the current situation as a national emergency, so he went AWOL and is currently missing.

Webb's plight caught Naked City's eye mainly because he is also active in Austin's peace movement, but according to husband-and-wife team Luke and Marti Hiken of the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild, Webb's situation is just "the tip of the iceberg." The San Francisco-based Hikens visited the UT Law School last Friday and Saturday to conduct a workshop for Central Texas counselors and lawyers on how to advise clients wishing to avoid what critics call "the back-door draft," or just how to stay the hell out of Iraq in general. They want to teach others, they say, because they can't possibly do it all themselves.

"The [GI Rights] Hotline right now is getting about 2,900 to 3,000 calls a month, and that's clearly too many for any kind of support system to be able to really meet the [need]," said Luke Hiken on campus last Friday. "A lot of those people are just trying to find out what their rights are. A lot of people are right at the point of resistance." He said about 30,000 calls came in the early stages of the war.

One of the MLTF's current activities is a lawsuit on behalf of a guardsman challenging the legality of the current stop-loss mobilization. Among its arguments, the MLTF plans to show that stop-loss is only allowable in national emergency, and the current Iraq situation has more to do with poor planning by the Bush administration than any real threat to national security. "Since the coup in Iraq, since the United States put in its own government there, to suggest that we're there to protect ourselves is now nonsense," Hiken said. (Details of the suit may be found at www.sorgen.net.) A very interesting thing about that suit, Marti Hiken said, "was the support of a large number of people inside the military, and we're talking brass, officers, not just the GIs themselves. The military is divided in terms of what's going on right now."

"The reserves are people who go in expecting to be in for a short period of time, being called up for floods or fires or earthquakes or serious and significant emergencies, or war if we were being attacked," said Luke Hiken. "But to say to these people, 'We've gotcha, and now you're in indefinitely, and you signed up voluntarily,' they know that's outrageous."

The Hikens contrasted Webb's situation with resisters during Vietnam, when they started their counseling work. "During the Vietnam War, the first sets of people who filed for conscientious objector [status], all were denied that; they all went to jail for up to two years. By the end of that war, if you knew how to spell it, you got out. ... So the nature of what's going to happen to the first people who are out there in public is very different than what happens as this war goes on and the numbers go from the tens and the twenties into the hundreds and the thousands."

To be advised of legal options in avoiding compulsory military service, call the hotline at 800/394-9544.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Iraq, Carl Webb, stop-loss, George W. Bush, Luke Hiken, Marti Hiken, G.I. Rights Hotline, Military Law Task Force, National Lawyers Guild, National Guard, National Reserves

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