2008 APA Petition Resolution Ballot - Rebuttal to the Con Statement

In early June 2008, APA received a petition with the required number of signatures of full members in good standing concerning the issue of whether psychologists may work in certain settings that involve the detention of individuals.

A ballot mailing dated August 1, 2008 included the full text of the petition statement and the following rebuttal to the con statement.

Ruth Fallenbaum, PhD

The con statement pointedly misconstrues the meaning of the referendum. We therefore encourage you to closely read the resolution in its entirety. Every concern raised is answered within its text: the first citation discusses the scope and applicability of international law; the “whereas” statements provide context for the “resolved” statement. No portion is unimportant. Given the short space allowed, we will address two major concerns.

A flood of domestic lawsuits?

This is not at all likely. While anyone can file a frivolous lawsuit, a judge reading the full text of this referendum would be hard pressed to interpret it as barring psychologists from working at sites that neither the U.N. nor the Supreme Court have found to be in violation of the law. The referendum is specific, provides clear context, and sets a high bar: in settings where people are detained outside of the law – places where treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and Convention Against Torture are ignored or declared not to apply – psychologists can work only for those detained. U.S. “jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals…” all function within the legal system. Even if they are found to be in violation of the constitution, the finding itself demonstrates that they function within a legal framework, and thus do not meet that bar. No matter how bad conditions might be at these domestic institutions, they can be challenged openly in U.S. courts, and everyone held there holds the rights of habeas corpus; thus they differ significantly from the secret, extra-legal settings that are the subject of this referendum.

Dangers of “unintended consequences?”

“Unintended consequences” attend any policy. In fact, this referendum is itself a response to the consequences of the APA's policy of “engagement.” By promoting the participation of psychologists at sites like Guantánamo, the policy has tarnished our profession and provided cover for those who have engaged in torture.

The moral issue of our time has landed at our doorstep, and we cannot turn away.

When a governing authority opts out of the rule of law, psychologists need to speak out for human rights. Psychologists working within unjust settings deserve a professional organization that protects them against participating in and legitimizing unethical and illegal behavior. You can make this happen by voting “yes”.