Monday, 12 October 2009

28 ...for the Prosecution I

June 15: The prosecutors’ closing arguments created a sensation at the trial: they called for the dissolution of the two organisations charged and convictions for the individual defendants.

After the lawyers for the plaintiffs had spoken, it was the turn of the prosecutors. It was most likely the prospect of their closing presentation that had attracted most of the observers to the court that day.

During the investigation of the case, the prosecutor’s office had taken the view that there was no case to answer: fortunately for the plaintiffs, investigating magistrate Jean-Christophe Hullin had taken a different view and sent the case to trial.

The two prosecutors assigned to the case during the trial were Nicolas Baïetto and Maud Morel-Coujard and their office had made it clear in the run-up to the trial that they were free to take their own view of the case.

From the opening days, it became clear they were doing just that: both lawyers questioned defendants closely and made it clear when they felt they were not getting clear answers.

The big question was, just how far they would go in their closing arguments. In the event, they created a sensation.

It was Morel-Coujard who stood up to speak first.

“For three weeks now, we have been hearing that happiness has no price,” she said. “But if happiness has no price, in this trial there has been a cost – and a considerable cost.”

Three weeks of rich debate had drawn all those in the court into the Scientology universe, which science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard had created in the 1950s: when psychoanalysis was never far from the cinema screens – and when marketing methods were taking the world of business by storm.

Hubbard had published tens of thousands of pages and recorded hundreds of conferences as he developed his new thinking, said Morel-Coujard. He had covered everything from literature and philosophy, religion and technology, medicine and management.

The defendant Alain Rosenberg had repeatedly spoken of the Scientology experience in religious terms, referring to liberty of belief, liberty of religion: but religious beliefs were not a free pass to justify every act.

The defendants and other Scientologists had told the court they studied its writings because they wanted to liberate themselves spiritually, said Morel-Coujard.

“But where are the poor in this universe?” she asked. “Where are the unemployed in Scientology?”

Rosenberg had even suggested that the unemployed could always visit the library and read up on Scientology there “and then things will sort themselves out in his life.” And if that did not happen, according to Scientologists, they only had themselves to blame.

“There is no place for the weak then – except for those who work for the cause for free,” said Morel-Coujard.

And those with money would quickly find themselves relieved of it, she added.

Targetting the vulnerable

“In these last three weeks of intense debate we have learned that in the search for members a whole series of fraudulent marketing techniques were used,” said Morel Coujard. And one of the main elements was the personality test.

“The test is a method of recruitment. It is also a method to allow you to know who you are dealing with, to find their vulnerable points.”

The defendant Sabine Jacquart, who at the time in question had been president of the Celebrity Centre, had herself said that the test allowed Scientologists to pick up on people’s weak points – in the Scientology sense of the term.

“An examination of the tests shows that they target vulnerability,” Morel-Coujard added.

40. Are you rarely happy, unless you have a particular reason?...
47. Have you any particular hate or fear?...
71. Do you often “sit and think” about death, sickness, pain and sorrow?...
113. Would it take a
definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?...
188. Is the idea of death or even reminders of death abhorrent to you?...

Other questions meanwhile, appeared to be looking for other weak points:

88. If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic toward conscientious objectors in this country?...
98. Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?...
99. Do you prefer to take a passive role in any club or organization to which you belong? ...
52. Would you buy on credit with the hope that you can keep up the payments?

But certain features were common to the recruitment process, said Morel-Coujard. “It is always a personal contact and always to establish a dominant rapport.”

Nor was there any mention or reference or allusion to the Church of Scientology on the personality tests, she added. “They only mention Dianetics.”

The Scientologists who had appeared before the court had tried to minimise the importance of the test, said the prosecutor.[1]

Yet the test was one of the many items in Scientology that was protected by a registered trademark.

And Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard himself, had been very enthusiastic about this supposedly insignificant test, she added.

Morel-Coujard quoted from a policy letter, “New Testing Promotion Section”, dating back to October 28, 1960. In it, Hubbard had written of the test:

It has been found that this is a good, reliable method of getting people to come in...
Test evaluation is modern, scientific fortune telling…it does not matter how hard one leans on the person. Remember low cases want only to escape the consequences of life…
“As the person being interviewed cannot usually read tests, they have to be explained to him or her, point by point.

During the trial of course, Scientologists had said that the test results were analysed by a computer: according to Hubbard himself however, staff members still had to explain the results to the customer, “point by point.”

And even the defendant Alain Rosenberg had told investigators that staff members handling the tests took courses on how to analyse them, said Morel-Coujard. She quoted more passages from Hubbard’s policy letter:

The essence of testing procedure is (a) to get the person to do a test and (b) get him or her to come in to have it evaluated. From this follows his or her buying processing and training as sold to the person… at the same time as the evaluation is done…
Remarks that "Scientology can improve this or that characteristic" or "auditing can remedy that" or "Processing can change this" or "Training can stabilize that" should be used repeatedly during the evaluation for the sake of impingement…

The test then was clearly being used as a recruitment tool, said the prosecutor. And what was being offered was personal therapy – not a religion. “Thus the first step into Scientology is hidden.”

“A Faustian pact”

A number of Scientologists had said that the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton – and former plaintiff Eric Aubry – could not have failed to know that they were dealing with the Church of Scientology once they had walked through the doors of the Celebrity Centre.

The sign at the entrance, the books on display and the Scientology-style cross would have made it obvious, they had argued.

But when Eric Aubry bought his copy of Dianetics from the bus promoting it, there had been no mention of Scientology, said the prosecutor. And when Aude-Claire Malton went in for the first time to get her test results they asked her about her professional life.

“They thought she was a governess, looking after children, and tried to get her interested via education,” said Morel-Coujard.

All Malton had been looking had been a way to get over the end of a relationship, to learn how to be less shy – and that, in Scientology terms, had been her “ruin”.[2]

They had signed her up for a Dianetics course, not one for Scientology: and by the time her first visit was over, she had spent 425 francs (65 euros) and had already committed to more visits.

During Aubry’s first visit to the Celebrity Centre, he was persuaded to take a personality test: and when he was told the results showed he had problems, he bought books and signed up for a Dianetics seminar the following week.

And like Malton, Aubry had also had to sign a form saying he was neither a journalist nor a secret agent.

In each case, said the prosecutor, the personality test had played a key role in drawing them into Scientology – though in both cases they had originally signed up for Dianetics courses.

“Scientology is hidden behind Dianetics,” she said. “We are advancing blindfolded.”

And what happened during auditing? Morel-Coujard referred to a Scientology document that described how an auditor took his or her subject into a session.

He would be instructed to “Pick up the cans, please [the electrodes of the e-meter]. Close your eyes.” Then the subject would be told to find incidents in the past that might explain his problems, before being brought out of the session by a countdown from five to zero.

She spoke of “Life Repair” courses and the rule forbidding Scientologists to discuss their auditing experiences with their colleagues. And she reminded the court of the plaintiff Nelly Reziga’s account of one of the training routines: “You had to look people right in the eyes, without flinching,” she had said.

These elements suggested hypnotic techniques, said the prosecutor: this was training in submission.

Malton had first visited the Celebrity Centre in May, said Morel-Coujard. “In July, she signed her first Scientology religious form. But there was no going back. The trap had closed.”

And one of the stipulations of signing up for the training was that she abide by Scientology’s internal rules – which among other things, ruled out any recourse to outside litigation.

“That was not a religious form that Malton signed – that was a Faustian pact,” said the prosecutor.

Malton had spoken of a cascade of words from the defendant Jean-François Valli, as he talked her into buying the next course.

“You are worth it,” he would tell her, as he pressed her to sign up for more. “It is the first time you are doing something for yourself,” he would say. And the reduction Valli was offering was only valid if she took it up immediately, the prosecutor added.

Morel-Coujard recalled the evening Valli had accompanied Malton home to get her to sign the three cheques for 68,000 francs (10,360 euros) – the special offer, for-a-limited-time-only price.

Normally, the law required that you had a seven-day right of retraction period in which you could back out of a deal, said the prosecutor. With Malton, the opposite seemed to have been happened: she had been under pressure to buy – and to buy now.

According to Scientology’s way of doing business, Malton had already signed away her rights.

E-meter “an instrument of control”

Morel-Coujard turned to the e-meter itself. “Now we have heard a lot about the e-meter, that there is nothing new about it.”

And when in 1994 a M. Kirchner, a court-appointed expert, had examined the device for the needs of another trial, it had been one of the defendants in the current trial, Alain Rosenberg, who had demonstrated its use.

The problem, Kirchner noted, was that Rosenberg, had made basic mistakes that suggested that he did not know how to use the machine properly.

Another Scientologist interviewed during the investigation into the current case had seemed equally clueless about the basic principles of the device, she noted.

One of Scientology’s expert witnesses on the device, Philippe Ripoche, had enthused about what he thought was a correlation between subjects’ thoughts and the e-meter’s reaction. But his test sample of eight people was hardly scientifically rigorous, said Morel-Coujard.

And his colleague, the other Scientology expert on the device (Bernard Denis-Laroque), had dismissed Hubbard’s claims about thought having mass as unscientific.[3]

But Scientologists also insisted that the e-meter was a religious device: “By itself, this meter does nothing,” was the official disclaimer. But if that was the case, was it not a bit of a contradiction to register a patent on the device, asked the prosecutor?

“It is a mise-en-scene in the true sense of the term,” she argued.

With its needles, electrodes and display panel the e-meter was like something out of a science-fiction film, said Morel-Coujard.

“It is the typical instrument of the Cold War era, an instrument of control, like the lie detector,” she added. And it was no accident that the person being audited could not see the panel that showed the needle’s movements.

“It is an instrument that is designed to impress and destined to deceive,” she said.

And it evoked disturbing images from I Comme Icare (I as in Icarus) a French conspiracy thriller which in one scene depicts social scientist Stanley Milgram’s famous Obedience to Authority experiment.[4]

So when Scientology said: “By itself, this meter does nothing,” what they were effectively saying was “This establishment declines any responsibility in case of fraud,” the prosecutor argued.[5]

“This is someone who was deceived”

Malton took the e-meter auditing and the Scientology courses, even though she had only really wanted to do the Communication Course to help solve her personal problems.

But Valli kept pushing her to buy more courses, to the point where he proposed she take out a 50,000-franc loan (7,600 euros) to pay for the next course.

“Valli kept saying that it was she who had wanted it, she who had asked for it,” said the prosecutor: was that what Scientologists meant when they said hard sell translated as “taking care of people?”

Then they talked her into signing up to do the Purification Rundown, which involved weeks of intensive exercise, hours crowded into a sauna with other participants and high doses of vitamins.

On August 10, the day she started the programme, she had signed one of the “success stories” which she and other defendants said were effectively compulsory. Its wording was telling, said Morel-Coujard, reading an extract: “’I thank the people who persuaded me to do this programme.’”

These success stories constituted another element in the fraud, said the prosecutor.

They were not voluntary, as the Scientologists had tried to argue: in reality, they served as another lever of control over members, who knew that they could be produced for use against them should they ever try to sue the organisation.

It was significant that the letters had not featured in either Malton’s dossier or Aubry’s when seized by police during the investigation, said Morel-Coujard. They had only been added to the dossier later, by a lawyer acting for the defendants.

When Malton sat a second personality test after the Rundown, the results did not show the improvements she expected.

The Rundown, as Malton had told the court, had been a physically punishing experience for her; and the results of the personality test had left her demoralised. It was in this state of mind – and by now heavily in debt – that she had signed up to take a staff job at the Celebrity Centre.

A Scientologist had drawn up a list of things for her to do: find a cheaper apartment to rent; get help moving; move; resign from previous job.

All these documents – from the personality test results to the success stories to the final memo telling her how to reorganise her life – bore witness to the stifling levels of control in the Scientology system.

From her first visit to the Celebrity Centre just four months earlier, Scientology had progressively taken control of her life, said the prosecutor. And in that time she had spent 140,000 francs (21,300 euros).

But the worst thing, she added, was that having paid vast sums of money and got heavily in debt for courses paid up years in advance, she had subsequently agreed to join as a staff member – and nobody had explained to her these courses Scientology training would would have been free to her as a staff member.

“This is not someone who made a mistake,” said Morel-Coujard of the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton. “This is someone who was deceived.”

Aubry’s ordeal

Former plaintiff Eric Aubry’s experience had closely paralleled that of Aude-Claire Malton’s said the prosecutor.

He had told investigators that he had felt he had been caught up in a never-ending chain of spending. Aubry was subjected to the same fraudulent manoeuvres, said Morel-Coujard.

There was the same pressure to buy more courses, she said; and there was the same sense of urgency to pay up before the Thursday 2:00 pm deadline.

Aubry had his first contact with Dianetics on September 6, 1997: by September 18, he had handed over 1,846 francs (281 euros) for an annual membership card for the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) – when there were only three months left until the end off the year.

And by the end of the month, an auditor had sent him to the defendant Didier Michaux, the top salesman at the Paris Scientology bookshop.

Michaux subjected Aubry to the same high-pressure marketing techniques Malton endured at the hands of Valli, said the prosecutor. The hard sell had included:
  • systematic offers of reductions provided payment was made immediately;
  • sales calls at home and at work;
  • late-night sales pitches after courses that could last hours;
  • and Michaux, like Valli, insisted on payment before that Thursday 2:00 pm deadline.
It had taken until three weeks in to the trial before the court got a clear explanation of the pressure Scientology staffers were under to “up their statistics” by the Thursday 2:00 pm deadline, said the prosecutor – and that had come from former Scientologist Roger Gonnet.

Over a five-day period in late September, Aubry signed cheques for a total of 70,000 francs (10,700 euros), said Morel-Coujard.

And his experience in November of the Purification Rundown had been even worse than Malton’s: he experienced not just extreme fatigue but hallucinations.

Then Michaux started pushing him to make another major investment to move up Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom”.

Aubry emptied the savings accounts set aside for a house purchase of 30,000 francs (4,500 euros) and another 163,000 francs (25,000 euros) in cheques and bank card deductions on November 15.

And between January and February of 1998, he spent another 13,000 francs, this time on life membership of the IAS.

But in the spring of that year, he stayed away from the Celebrity Centre, said Morel-Coujard – which did not go unnoticed. He got a follow-up letter from the centre on April 16 – barely two months after his last payment to them, on February 26.

“They said that this was very rare,” said the prosecutor, referring to the defendants’ testimony during the trial. But this suggested that these kind of follow-up letters were rather more prompt, rather more frequent, than they had suggested.

Aubry replied on May 8 with the letter denouncing his treatment at the Centre, in particular at the hands of the defendants Michaux and Valli, from which Judge Sophie-Hélène Château had quoted liberally earlier in the trial.

He explained that when the chance had come up for him to buy his apartment, he had realised that he had poured the money set aside for this into Scientology. He wanted a partial refund so he could pursue the opportunity, but his request had been denied.

Aubry’s ruin

Aubry’s protest letter had been both a lucid analysis of his plight and an expression of his still-ambivalent feelings towards the movement, said the prosecutor.

He wrote about the pressure the staffers at the Celebrity Centre applied to people. He understood that their performance was linked to productivity targets – to how much they sold. And he argued that they used the word Dianetics, rather than Scientology, simply when it suited them, he added.

But even as he reproached the staff at the centre for the way he was treating them, he was using Scientology’s own vocabulary: he spoke of how their “suppressive” pressure had restimulated his “reactive” (primitive, irrational) mind.

And while he denounced the way he had been subject to manipulation mentale, or mind control, almost in the same phrase he acknowledged the benefits that Scientology’s techniques had brought him.

The defence however had other documents to counter Aubry’s protest letter, said the prosecutor: these were the many “success stories”, the letters he had written testifying to the benefits that Scientology processing had brought him.

“They are anything but spontaneous,” said Morel-Coujard – and sometimes came at the rate of several in one day.

Day after day, Aubry had written expressions of gratitude for the Scientology processing he was receiving, said the prosecutor. It was like a literary form of stuttering, she said: positive thinking as a written mantra.

“And these letters are exhibited like trophies,” she said.

There was a kind of infantilisation taking place, said the prosecutor. “It is like a child doing lines,” she said. “They made him regress the better to control him.”[6]

But what was Aubry’s weakness, his ruin, asked the prosecutor?

The psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Zagury had told the court that it was down to the guilt he felt about aspects of his private life. And this guilt, said Dr. Zagury, his Scientology handlers had exploited to the full during their auditing sessions.

Morel-Coujard reminded the court what Dr. Zagury had said about psychological manipulation, how there was a tendency to caricature the process. “In reality the mechanism is more subtle and perhaps more effective,” the psychiatrist had said.

The prosecutor turned her attention to the Scientologists who had queued up to speak up for one or other of the defendants – and to speak up for their own beliefs.

Judging from their testimony, the average expenditure of a Scientologist on his belief system was two or three thousand euros a year.

But set that against Aude-Claire Malton, who had spent the equivalent of 21,000 euros over four months; and Eric Aubry who spent nearly 20,000 euros in one three-month period alone.

“There is no comparison,” said Morel-Coujard. “These are very large amounts of money that were spent in a very short period of time.”
  • Both Malton and Aubry had been caught in the same trap, said the prosecutor: the personality test served as the bait;
  • the auditing was a kind of apprenticeship in submission, uncovering the guilty secrets that could be taken down and used against them later;
  • the e-meter added another layer of pseudo-scientific mystification and of control;
  • the relentless hard sell, at home and in the office;
  • and the diplomas, the success stories, all the documentary paraphernalia of their journey into Scientology, bound them closer to the movement and made them more helpless.
“All these were instruments of fraud,” said Morel-Coujard – and the trail led straight back not just to the individual defendants but to the two Scientology organisations charged in this case.

She recalled Pierre Auffret, who had plundered more than 900,000 francs from his company’s coffers before his board found out where it was going.

Auffret, who had actually been investigated with a view to prosecution, had told investigators how much he had admired the way the Celebrity Centre operated commercially.

“When I understood how they could bring in money, I realised that I could do the same thing,” he had said.

Auffret had refused to file a complaint against Scientology, saying that those who did so were themselves to blame for whatever happened.

He appeared to share the movement’s tendency to blame the victim, said Morel-Coujard.

But the fact was both Aubry and Malton had been drawn into Scientology at a time in their life when they were very vulnerable.

Aubry's vulnerability had been the need to be forgiven for what he saw as his personal shortcomings; for Malton it had been a need for some degree of recognition.

As Dr Zagury had pointed out, the mechanisms involved in Scientology were very subtle.

As Maud Morel-Coujard sat down, her colleague Nicolas Baïetto rose to continue their presentation.
[1] Although test document presents itself as being based on scientific research, the defendant Alain Rosenberg had told investigators that the test had no scientific value, something he repeated during his later court testimony. Eric Roux, the Scientologist speaking for the Celebrity Centre, had also tried to play down the test’s scientific credentials.
[2] “RUIN, before you can save someone from ruin, you must find out what their own personal ruin is. This is basically-what is ruining them? What is messing them up? It must be a condition that is real to the individual as an unwanted condition, or one that can be made real to him.” (HCO PL 23 Oct 65)— L. Ron Hubbard, Modern Management Technology Defined.
Quoted in its entirety in Chapter Five (page 66) of Sir John Foster’s Enquiry into the Practice and Effects of Scientology: commissioned by the British government and published in 1971.
[3] To be fair, Ripoche too had dismissed Hubbard’s claims in this area in stinging terms. He was the one who referred to Hubbard’s claims for the e-meter as “a far-fetched, ambitious and laughable stream of verbosity.”
[4] In Milgram’s experiment, ordinary people took part in a staged experiment, in which they gave out increasingly high electric shocks to a test subject (a plant). Most proved willing to give what would have been fatal electric shocks to the fake subject simply because a figure of authority, a scientist in a white lab coat, had told them to do so. For a more detailed summary, see here; and for video footage of a recent reconstruction see here.
[5] Morel-Coujard also compared the scientific veneer of the e-meter with the way Jacques Crozemarie, the head of French anti-cancer charity ARC ( l’Association de Recherche sur le Cancer), used to promote his charity wearing a white doctor’s quote even though he had no medical qualifications. It turned out that Crozemarie was milking the charity funds for his own personal use. (ARC is now under new management.)
[6] Gonnet, during his testimony, had also described what he called the dumbing-down (crétinisation) process to which Scientologists were subjected.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent round-up of the prosecution's case, balanced out by CoS objections. I very much appreciated reading this very informative post.

    My two-cents worth says that there are massive flaws in the personality test, with a subtle but nevertheless unduly irrelevant accent being put upon the subject's financial and lifestyle situations. You don't need to be Einstein to realise that honest answers to all the questions gives the tester a comprehensive overall view of the subject's weak and strong points in financial and lifestyle areas and not his/her personality per se.

    As for the machine lol!!

    I have nothing whatsoever against the CoS. I just naturally feel that there's something very shady and underhand about their techniques that's all.

    Anyway, thanks for this. It represents a lot of hard work on your part and I for one appreciate it.