Saturday, 29 August 2009

18 The Maestro, the Scholar – and the Psychiatrist

A succession of defence witnesses lined up to defend Scientology: an internationally recognised concert pianist, a distinguished academic – and a psychiatrist.

During the third week of the trial, a string of witnesses stepped forward to speak up for Scientology as a philosophy and a religion – and for individual defendants.

As well as the Dr. David Root, the doctor who had defended the Purification Rundown’s medical credentials, a French academic was on hand to put it in its religious context.

And Scientology had even invited a psychiatrist over from the United States to testify to the abuses committed by his own profession.

Earlier however, one of their own celebrity members appeared to speak up for the defendant Alain Rosenberg.

Cyprien Katsaris is an internationally recognised concert pianist whose career honours include numerous acclaimed recordings and France’s Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

He was clearly devoted to Scientology: and about Rosenberg, he could hardly have been more enthusiastic.

“I have known M. Rosenberg since 1976,” he said. “I was struck by the honesty in this man, and what attracted and moved me was his commitment to helping people.

“He is a person of faith,” said Katsaris. “And I was convinced that what he does could only help people.”

Over the more than 30 years he had known Rosenberg, he had been struck by how he had worked to apply the principles of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, to his own life.

Katsaris compared Rosenberg’s pastoral work, presiding over baptisms, marriages and other religious ceremonies, to his own work as a musician.

In the course of a couple of hours during a performance, a musician like himself could help an audience forget their problems, said Katsaris.

“If we can make them forget their everyday worries then we have made a contribution,” he said – like a doctor relieving pain.

Rosenberg, by offering the spiritual knowledge of Scientology to anyone who wanted it, was doing something similar, he argued.

“He helps people get access to this religious knowledge – and in the West it is not easy to spread the word of Scientology,” he said.

In the East, with spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, these ideas were accepted more easily: “I know it is a bit difficult for Western minds to understand,” he added.

But Hubbard’s work was in spiritual development – not just the body and the mind, he said.

Turning to Rosenberg, seated just to his right, Katsaris said: “I would like to thank him for everything he has done up to now.”

When Judge Sophie-Hélène Château asked him about his studies in Scientology, Katsaris said he did not devote as much time to it as he liked.

He was too busy with his career, he said – a career that had included an invitation to give two concerts during the 2008 Beijing Olympics; and a Chopin recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1999, the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.

He had only rarely taken the personality test. “I find it completely anodyne, futile, superficial,” he said. “I understand that it helps the ministers but I have never understood its use.”

Asked how much he had paid over the years for Scientology services, he calculated briefly: converting from francs to euros, he came up with the sum of 85,000 euros (120,000 dollars) since 1976 – a little over 2,500 euros a year.

Dr. Colin Ross: the psychiatrist

Later the same day, the court heard from Dr. Colin Ross, one of a handful of psychiatrists with whom Scientology has made common cause on certain issues.

I was unable to attend this part of the trial, but Scientology’s own websites and literature indicate which part of his work interests the movement.[1]

A February 2007 item reports that Dr. Ross was honoured at a special awards ceremony by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a group set up in 1969 by Scientology to expose psychiatric abuse.[2]

“Dr. Colin Ross… exposed the role of psychiatry in secret CIA mind control experiments,” says the report.

“His investigation amassed 15,000 pages of documents through the Freedom of Information Act and resulted in his acclaimed book, The CIA Doctors: Human Rights Violations by American Psychiatrists, which has sold more than 6,000 copies.

“He has delivered more than 340 workshops, and appeared as an expert in two documentaries – "Mind Control" on the History Channel, and "Conspiracy Files: CIA Mind Control," on the Discover [sic] Channel.”[3]

In “North America’s Crime of the Century?” the Canadian edition of Scientology’s Freedom magazine quotes Dr. Ross as an authority on mind control in a discussion of the Canadian psychiatrist Ewen Cameron.

According to most accounts, Cameron’s devastating psychic experiments in the 1950s and '60s destroyed the lives of many of his patients.[4]

“Ross told Freedom that psychiatrists carried out a deliberate campaign of deception in Cameron’s wake to limit the damage to psychiatry’s reputation,” the magazine writes.[5]

“The disinformation, he said, conveyed that Ewen Cameron and his brutal work had been ‘just an isolated incident, that it happened a long time ago back in the ’50s, and that there were different ethical standards back then.’

“But Ross noted that while Cameron’s research ‘completely violated the ethical standards of the time,’ his experiments were far from isolated from his fellow psychiatrists,” the magazine writes.

The Terror Doctors”, another report from Freedom magazine examines what it says is the role of psychiatric mind control in the training of al-Qaeda extremists, quoting Dr. Ross as “an authority on coercive psychiatric methods.”

It goes on: “The presence of doctors is vital, according to Colin Ross, as is their knowledge of mind-altering substances.”[6]

In “Behind the Terror”, Freedom magazine investigated the use of mind control by government agencies and terrorist groups to create “Manchurian Candidates” assassins.

This is a reference to Richard Condon's Cold War thriller in which a soldier is brainwashed, implanted with an alternate identity of which his normal self is completely oblivious, so he can be used as programmed assassin without even knowing it.

Freedom magazine cites Dr. Ross, “an authority in coercive psychiatric methods”, in support of its claim that terrorists today were creating such programmed killers in secret training camps, “using drugs, hypnosis and other coercive means.

“‘Terrorist organizations and governments around the world are using these techniques, right up to the present,’ he [Ross] said.”[7]

Finally a pamphlet produced by the CCHR, “Chaos and Terror Manufactured by Psychiatry”, cites Ross' argument that “a variety of techniques could be exploited by a skilled psychiatric technician to program an individual to commit violent acts.

“Hypnosis exerts a more powerful influence when combined with drugs and pain. Ross suspects the amount of suicide bombers programmed with drugs is ‘close to 100 percent.’”

Dr. Ross’s position then, is that the techniques developed by the CIA on one side, and the communists on the other during the Cold War were not abandoned as unworkable, as some researchers have concluded. He believes they are still being used today.

He and Scientology believe that these abusive psychiatric techniques have played a role in decades of extremist violence – from the Cold War era up to the modern-day fanaticism of groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Their position then is that the Manchurian Candidate is fact, not fiction.[8]

Professor Philippe Laburthe-Tolra: the anthropologist

Philippe Laburthe-Tolra, anthropologist, ethnologist, formerly an emeritus professor at the Sorbonne, also testified for Scientology.[9]

Again, I was not able to attend this part of the trial. But his position, insofar as it interests Scientology, can be gleaned from his previous testimony for the movement.[10]

Laburthe-Tolra, a specialist in African religious beliefs, was among a number of academics who testified for Scientology at the 1996 trial in Lyon.

In that trial one senior member Scientologist was tried – and eventually convicted – for manslaughter (homicide involontaire) over the suicide of a member there. Others defendants were convicted on fraud-related charges.

Laburthe-Tolra’s testimony at Lyon was that while he did not share Scientology’s beliefs, he was shocked at their treatment in the media.

Cults were accused of preying on the vulnerable, of manipulating the weak-minded: but one could just as easily accuse the media of doing the same thing, he told the court.

While describing himself as a Catholic, Laburthe-Tolra also declared his attachment to France’s secular values. But he added: “The secular values to which I am attached are in my view, founded on tolerance.

“I don’t like militancy. I respect all beliefs and people. I don’t question their good faith. We need to try for a position of neutrality.”

The new religions gave their followers a sense of security and a social network, which in the modern world was often lacking, he argued.

He rejected the criticism that Scientologists sometimes broke from their former lives: had not Christ required his followers to do the same, he asked?

He also dismissed the argument that Scientology might have a negative influence on children: did not Catholics, by teaching the catechism, inculcate their children with their own values?

He used a similar comparison to counter claims that Scientology was anti-social: had not Francis of Assisi suffered the same criticism in his time, he asked?

Critics had also alleged that Scientology was trying to infiltrate France’s economy: but one could say exactly the same of the Freemasons, he argued.

“I don’t share these beliefs, but I confess that as a Catholic I believe in eternal life and the resurrection.

“The main problem with Scientology is its greed for money… I did five years of psychoanalysis and it cost me more than 200,000 francs (30,490 euros). Was there personal enrichment?

“Either you have to condemn en bloc every form of religion or you have to be tolerant,” he concluded. But mysticism sometimes brought its own joys, its own rewards.”[11]

The December 1996 edition of Ethique et Liberté, the French edition of Freedom magazine, gave this account of his testimony in Lyon.

“The real mental manipulation is that which is exercised by the media, and that is extremely serious. That’s how Nazism and Stalinism were possible. Entire populations were manipulated by propaganda…

“Intolerance is the worst enemy of freedom,” he told the court. “To be tolerant and to respect others requires that one constantly calls oneself into question, because we always have a tendency to reject new ideas and new beliefs.”

Thirteen years later in Paris, I understand his testimony was geared more towards explaining the Purification Rundown function as a legitimate religious ritual.[12]

At the Lyon trial, Ethique et Liberté reported, Laburthe-Tolra argued that “purity, impurity and purification are basic concepts in every religion.”

Hubbard’s purification procedure was far milder, far less demanding than some from other religious traditions, including Catholic orders, he said.

What was important for the believers, he said, was that it brought spiritual advancement. “It bears its fruits in terms of the joy and happiness that springs from a sense of purification,” he said.[13]

Judge Château, colleagues have confirmed, intervened on at least one occasion during his testimony to point out that Scientology as a religion was not on trial.[14]

Quite what she made of Dr. Ross’ testimony I’m afraid I cannot say.

[1] Dr. Ross, a Canadian psychiatrist now based in Texas, gave his evidence in English through an interpreter. Despite repeated requests, I was unable to obtain a summary of Dr. Ross’ testimony to the court from Scientology’s lawyers.
[2] The CCHR was co-founded with the psychiatrist Dr Thomas Szasz, a prominent critic of institutional psychiatry.
[3] The CIA’s mind control experiments, now a matter of record, were first documented by former State Department official John Marks in his book The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control: The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences (1979).
[4] See for example, I swear by Apollo: Dr. Ewen Cameron and the CIA-brainwashing experiments, by Don Gillmor. (1987, Eden Press); and In the Sleep Room: The Story of CIA Brainwashing Experiments in Canada, by Anne Collins, Lester & Orpen Dennys (Toronto), 1988.
[5] “North America’s Crime of the Century?” Freedom magazine, Canadian edition.
[6] Freedom magazine, US edition, Vol. 36, Issue 2: “The Terror Doctors”, p6 . The sub-title for the section is “Hypnosis, Drugs and pain” a clear echo of one of Hubbard’s key phrases, “pain, drug, hypnosis” which sums up his remarkably similar views on the ability – and willingness – of unscrupulous psychiatrists to brainwash and otherwise exploit their patients.
[7] Freedom magazine, Vol 34, Issue 1: “Behind the Terror”, p4.
[8] For a précis of his position see this summary of Dr. Ross’ book, The CIA Doctors: Human Rights Violations By American Psychiatrists, at his own website.
[9] For an idea of Professor Laburthe-Tolra's academic career, see this French-language summary at the website of his publishers, PUF (Presses Universitaires de France).
[10] Again, despite repeated requests I was unable to obtain a summary of Professor Laburthe-Tolra’s testimony from Scientology’s lawyers.
[11] Testimony recorded in Le Procès de l’Eglises de Scientologie (Albin Michel, 1997), pp117-119.
[12] My thanks to colleagues present in court for this pointer.
[13] Scientology’s Ethique et Liberté magazine, December 1996.
[14] A point confirmed by two colleagues.

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