Sunday 23 May 2010

12 Xenophon Ups the Ante

Senator Nick Xenophon is calling for a judicial inquiry into Scientology after fresh allegations of abuse from an ABC investigation.

Australia’s Senator Nick Xenophon has returned to attack and is calling for a full judicial inquiry into Scientology following further revelations about the movement.

His call comes a week after he won a Senate committee inquiry into his private member’s bill, which proposes a public interest test for charities and religions claiming tax breaks.[1]

The change of tactics came after revelations in two reports from Australia’s ABC television that corroborated allegations the senator made in a speeches to the Senate in November.[2]

A first report from Lateline interviewed Scarlett Hanna, who grew up in Scientology as the daughter of members of the elite Sea Org.[3]

“It was just an incredibly lonely childhood,” said Hanna, whose mother is Vicki Dunstan, president of Scientology in Australia, and the movement’s former director of public affairs, Mark Hanna.

 “I had no one to talk to, or to look after me, or to ask me how I was after school – or any of those things that most of us take for granted.”

She told how children of Sea Org members were treated like cattle: living in overcrowded dormitories they were looked after by nannies and saw very little of their parents.

Food and medical care was inadequate and the movement actively deceived social services when they conducted inspections, she added.

Scientology has denied the allegations: a Scientologist who grew up with Hanna told Lateline said her account bore no relation to what she had experienced.

But a second report from ABC was even more damning.

It corroborated a former Scientologist’s allegation that the movement covered up child sexual abuse by one of its members.

This case was first cited by Senator Xenophon in the November 2009 speech to Senate that launched his campaign for an investigation into the movement.

At the time, he was careful to omit any identifying details.

But Carmen Rainer, the victim of the abuse, has gone public in an interview with Lateline.[4]

She told how, between the ages of seven to 11, she was molested by her then step-father. Both her mother and step-father were Scientologists at the time.

Carmen’s mother Phoebe went to Scientology’s chaplain when her daughter disclosed the abuse.

Both now say that Scientology executives put pressure on them to keep it from the police.

“They told me it was my fault because I'd been bad in a past life,” Carmen told Lateline. “I’d probably done something bad in a past life so I pulled it in.”

And she believed them, said Carmen.

I was 11. That's what I knew. I grew up believing what they believed.”

Both mother and daughter accuse Jan Eastgate, a senior figure in the movement, of having coached them on how to lie to police.

Eastgate was at the time head of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in Australia, the Scientology-founded organisation that campaigns against psychiatry. She now heads up the CCHR internationally in Los Angeles.

Xenophon learned of this incident last year from former Scientologist Carmel Underwood’s letter to him.

Underwood wrote that when she discovered that both mother and daughter were being drilled to lie to the police about the abuse, she had tried to object but was over-ruled.[5]

“I was told it was none of my business,” she told the Lateline investigation.[6]

As Lateline makes clear – and Scientology acknowledges – police records show that the man in question finally confessed to the abuse.

In their statement rebutting the Lateline report, the movement said he went to the police because they had pressured him to come clean.[7]

But as Phoebe Rainer told the programme, this was 13 years after the abuse took place – and only after she herself had started legal action against them.

Scientology has nevertheless dismissed the allegations in the Lateline report as “false, highly defamatory” and “vigorously denied”.

Corroborating evidence

The ABC reports find echoes not just in the letters from former Scientologists that launched Senator Xenophon’s campaign last year, but from other testimony further afield.

Hanna’s account helps corroborate claims found in the original letters to Xenophon.

Ex-Sea Org member Aaron Saxton wrote to the senator describing how as a Sea Org officer for the movement in Florida, he disrupted family life among the staff members.

He banned parents from visiting their children during working hours, knowing that most of them did not get home before 11:00 pm.

“This resulted in broken and dysfunctional families,” he wrote.

Saxton described how he fabricated paperwork to fool the authorities that children based at the Florida base were being properly educated.[8]

And Carmel Underwood described how the children of Scientology’s management staff were exploited, put to work for the movement after school.

“These children… were expected to perform like adults, and were treated as such. They saw their parents for maybe an hour, maybe once or twice a week,” she wrote.

The boys had a particular hard time of it, receiving “bare minimum food rations” and made to do hard labour, she added.[9]

Similar claims regarding the exploitation and abuse of children form the core of some of the lawsuits filed in California.

Laura DeCrescenzo, for one, was recruited into the Sea Org at the age of 12; and John Lindstein says he was doing manual labour for the movement from the age of eight, was working 15-hour days from age 10 and received no formal education from the age of 12.[10]

Nor is this the only case of Scientology covering up abuse or criminal activity to protect its reputation.

Paul Schofield, another former member, confessed in his letter to Senator Xenophon to having collaborated with the movement in the cover-up of his own daughters’ deaths.

But he also cited other cases of child abuse that Scientology either covered up, or at the very least failed to report.[11]

And in her recently published book Scientology – Abuse at the Top Amy Scobee tells how, at the age of 14, while working at a Scientology centre in the United States, she was raped by a 35-year-old colleague, a married man, Darryl.[12]

Somehow, Scientology executives found out and she was summoned for a meeting.

“I sat down with the Ethics Officer and she told me that I was in a condition of treason for my involvement with Darryl and I was to write up my lower conditions,” she wrote.[13]

Senator Xenophon’s new call for a judicial inquiry focuses specifically on Scientology: the committee into his private member’s bill, while it may end up focussing on the movement, is more broadly based.

But while the evidence submitted to the committee inquiry will enjoy the legal protection afforded official government proceedings – parliamentary privilege – a judicial inquiry is a sharper-edged weapon.

“Too many people have come forward with sickening tales of systemic abuse within this organisation…” the senator told the Australian media.

“We have allegations of child abuse, coerced abortions, false imprisonment, bullying and extortion. Surely the victims of Scientology deserve a proper inquiry,” he added.[14]

Xenophon tried and failed earlier this year to get a Senate investigation into the allegations against Scientology, based on the evidence provided to him by former members.

At the time, Scientology was quick to celebrate. The decision was a “victory for religious” freedom, said Vicki Dunstan in a March 11 statement.[15]

None of the allegations made by Xenophon against the movement had been proved, she said.

That last claim sounds rather less convincing in view of the latest allegations: all the more so because one of the main sources for the Lateline exposé was Vicki Dunstan’s daughter, Scarlett Hanna.

Scientology ethics

Amy Scobee, writing of her rape ordeal, explained how Scientology blamed and punished her for what had happened.

Her attacker was not removed from his post, but she was transferred to work at another Scientology centre nearby. Neither she nor the Ethics Officer told her parents about what had happened.

“There was this sort of agreement amongst the Scientology staff to keep such ‘internal situations’ to ourselves, thus concealing anything that could potentially reflect badly on the church if it were made known – an unspoken policy still firmly in place and very prevalent to this day,” she wrote.[16]

But it does not take too much to tease out the internal thinking behind such behaviour from the writings of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard’s system of Dynamics, a particularly perverse form of utilitarianism, makes it clear that the survival of Scientology, the group, is more important than that of the individual.

Hubbard claimed that the first dynamic was the individual, the second the family, the third the group: and the fourth, he wrote, was the species.

Hubbard convinced his followers that Scientology was nothing less than humanity’s last, best hope.

By this logic then, the movement’s needs take priorities over those of individual members, their relationships or even their families, which explains a lot about the harsh regime in the Sea Org.[17]

Amy Scobee found this out the hard way, as she writes in her book.

She writes about getting to phone home to wish her mother Happy Holidays on Christmas Day, 2004, after more than a decade in the Sea Org without ever having been given permission to take leave to see her family.

Her mother is clearly upset during the phone call, and Amy knows she doesn’t believe her promise that she will arrange to get a leave of absence to come visit – she’s been 17 years away, after all.

Then she gets a note from her mother, who makes it clear that saving the world is not a good enough reason to neglect her family.

“I know you’re terribly busy, but sometimes fuck the planet and the universe – what about us?”

And Amy realizes that she is right.

I sat there and thought this over, she writes in her book. I could not figure out what was wrong with any mother wanting to talk to their daughter. It made me so upset that my mum felt she had to apologise for wanting to talk to me!

This attitude is hammered in by the church where the group is all and the individual is nothing and anything that cuts across 100 percent dedication to the cause is an enemy…

Which is part what of helped her to leave the movement.[18]

All this thinking has its roots in Hubbard’s Introduction to Scientology Ethics, which also sets out the list of high crimes: suppressive acts that would justify expelling the offender from the movement.

Hubbard here pays lip service to the legal proprieties: it is a high crime in Scientology to commit a felony, for example. But it is also a high crime to:

n      give public statements against Scientology;
n      testify hostilely before state or public inquiries into Scientology to suppress it;
n      report or threaten to report Scientology or Scientologists to civil authorities in an effort to suppress Scientology of Scientologists…;
n      deliver up the person of a Scientologist without justifiable defence or lawful protest to the demands of civil or criminal law.[19]

When Scientology is faced with denouncing abuses within its own ranks, Hubbard’s system has conflicting priorities.

Having listed his high crimes in Introduction to Scientology Ethics, Hubbard repeats that none of the above should be construed as a justification for violating the laws of the land.

But this is clearly just window-dressing: for if Scientology is the last, best hope for humanity as his followers believe, then his law of dynamics dictates that its needs must come first.

Hubbard even defines high crimes explicitly in terms of what is bad for Scientology – not for society as a whole.

“Suppressive acts are clearly those covert or overt acts knowingly calculated to reduce or destroy the influence or activities of Scientology or prevent case gains or continued Scientology success and activity on the part of a Scientologist.”[20]

And once you cut through the jargon, his definition of ethics is equally clear: again, it’s about what is good for Scientology.

“The purpose of ethics is to remove counter intentions from the environment” he wrote in one policy letter. “And having accomplished that the purpose becomes to remove other intentionedness from the environment.”[21]

Former Scientologist Gerry Armstrong, now a veteran critic of the movement, translated that in a 2004 affidavit.

“In other words, anyone or anything that was ‘counter intention’ to Scientology’s intentions or activities, and anyone with an intention that differed from the organization’s intentions was unethical and was to be removed from the environment.”[22]

In his 1996 affidavit, former Sea Org member turned critic Martin Ottmann had already reached a similar conclusion.

“The purpose of Scientology-ethics is therefore to impose one’s will on others. The purpose of the Sea Org, which is to get ethics in on the planet, is therefore to dominate the world,” he wrote.

“Scientology has exposed itself as a fascist organization, [which] reaches for world domination and nothing else.”[23]

[1] See the previous posting, 11 Xenophon wins Committee Inquiry.
[2] See the posting that opened the section of this site, 1 Australian Senator attacks ‘criminal’ Scientology.
[3] Broadcast last Monday, May 18, the full transcript is available here.
[4] The second report went out May 19, the following night: ABC link here, transcript will presumably follow.
[5] Page 28 of the letters here. Note that in the copy of the letter submitted to the Senate, Senator Xenophon was careful to redact any identifying details, thus protecting not just the family involved but people accused of the cover-up. For my summary of the letter, see elsewhere on the site.
[6] She explained to Lateline that she found out about this after inadvertently walking in on Eastgate coaching Carmen Rainer.
[7] Mark Bunker has a link to their statement at his site.
[11] See 5 Paul Schofield’s Letter, elsewhere on this site.
[12] Scientology: Abuse at the Top. Scobee Publishing 2010.
[13] Page 13. And as she told Lateline, she later heard that the man had been promoted to be an Ethics Officer himself, which is to say he was entrusted with taking care of discipline and good conduct among his fellow Scientologists.
[14] From The West Australian, though the original source appears to have been the Australian Associated Press.
[15] You can find statement at the Scientology Australia website.
[16] Pp13-14.
[17] Hubbard’s system of dynamics run up to eight: the Supreme Being. And some of his writings give the impression that he had himself in mind for that post. But let’s not get into to that one this time around.
[18] Scientology: Abuse at the Top. Scobee Publishing 2010: pp 182-183.
[19] From Hubbard’s Introduction to Scientology Ethics, Chapter Seven: The Ethics Code, in the section on Suppressive Acts, pp 206 to 223 of my edition.
[20] Op. cit. p 223
[21] Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, June 18, 1968.
[22] Gerry Armstrong, Complaint Report, February 16, 2004.
[23] Martin Ottmann’s affidavit, April 19, 1996: the conclusion to Section to C.

Thursday 13 May 2010

11 Xenophon wins committee inquiry

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has moved a step forward in his campaign for a review of Scientology’s tax status in Australia: an inquiry into the feasibility of a public benefit test for charities and religions.

Independent Australian senator Nick Xenophon, who has been campaigning since last November for a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology’s tax-exempt status, will get to put his case to a parliamentary committee.

The Senate’s economics committee has been instructed to carry out an inquiry into his bill proposing a public interest test for charities and religions claiming tax breaks, and to report back by August 31.

Previously, the ruling Labor Party and the main opposition Liberals had twice blocked the senator’s campaign to get an inquiry on Scientology, a campaign he has supported with disturbing accounts from past members of the movement’s activities.

On Wednesday, May 12, his bid to add an amendment to a government bill changing the tax laws was also voted down.[1]

But after introducing his own private member’s bill the following day, he got the committee inquiry, which will take testimony from witnesses and be heard in public.

On Wednesday, Xenophon reminded the Senate that the government had opposed his previous calls for an inquiry into Scientology because it would pre-empt the work of a review of the tax system.

That review, the Henry Tax Review, was now in, said Xenophon: and one of its recommendations (number 41) covered the kind of public interest test that he was proposing.[2]

But the government had chosen not to adopt that recommendation, he said.

“This amendment puts in place a reasonable test for bodies seeking to be recognised as charities and seeking to get tax-free status,” he told the Senate.

“It ensures that their aims and activities are of true benefit to the community as a whole. For charities and other entities to receive tax exemption it seems only fair that they must meet this public benefit test if they are to be propped up and supported by the Australian taxpayer.

“I make no apology for introducing this amendment here in the context of this legislation. I have flagged previously that I will be persistent and relentless in pursuing a just outcome for the victims of Scientology to ensure that this organisation receives appropriate scrutiny.

“Indeed, for any organisation that receives the benefit of a tax-free status there must be a degree of accountability – and that is lacking in our current laws.”

But senators, expressing doubts that his measure was a good fit with the bill being considered, voted down his move by 28 to six. Only the Greens, who have already backed Xenophon’s campaign on this issue, voted with him.

A day later, the senator introduced his own private member’s bill – and here he had more success.[3] The Senate’s selection of bills committee, sitting in private session, instructed the economics legislation committee, which handles tax matters, to conduct the inquiry.

The strength of Xenophon’s current bill is that it is based on a principle that would apply to all charities and religious organisations and not just Scientology: a principle already accepted in England and Wales.

“This proposed amendment is no threat to charities or religions acting in the public good,” said Xenophon of his bill, in a statement released shortly after his bill was referred to committee for the inquiry.

“It is simply designed to ensure that people who derive benefit from the Australian taxpayer actually provide benefit to the Australian people through good works.”

Speaking on a crackly line from Australia, Xenophon explained to Infinite Complacency that the referral to committee was standard procedure in dealing with draft legislation.

But one could not second-guess what the committee’s recommendations might be, he stressed.

In a memorandum accompanying the bill, the senator explained what he meant by a public interest test.

“Under this Bill, a Public Benefit Test would include the following key principles:

n      There must be an identifiable benefit arising from the aims and activities of an entity;
n      The benefit must be balanced against any detriment or harm; and,
n      The benefit must be to the public or a significant section of the public, and not merely to individuals with a material connection to the entity.”

The summary of Thursday’s committee’s meeting leaves blank the section referring to reasons for the decision and principal issues arising.

But its list for possible submissions or evidence includes:

n      former members of the Church of Scientology;
n      the Charity Commission for England Wales (Xenophon’s bill is based on the public benefit test that they apply);
n      Paul Harpur of the Queensland University of Technology, a specialist in employment law;
n      Dr Stephen Mutch, an associate lectuer in government policy at Macquarie University, and formerly a deputy with the opposition Liberal Party;
n      The Church of Scientology itself;
n      And various other churches, campaigning groups and charities.

A spokesperson for Xenophon explained that Mutch and Harpur had appeared on the list of possible witnesses because the senator wanted to call them: both are familiar with the British law in this area.

Submissions and testimony would be open to the public, unless a witness asked to testify in camera and the committee decided to grant the request – but that would be very unusual.

This provisional list does suggest then that the thrust of the inquiry will be directed at Scientology, which after all was the reason Senator Xenophon introduced his bill.

The message boards are already celebrating a major victory, and it is true that this measure will allow the senator to once again air the issues in a parliamentary forum.

But this is no guarantee of course that his bill will be passed.

[1] He was trying to make a change to the government’s Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 1) Bill 2010. The proceedings, with Senator Xenophon’s speech, are in Hansard.
[2] Recommendation 41 of the Henry Tax Review – named after its chairman, Ken Henry – is in the section covering tax concessions for non-profit organisations. It reads: Consistent with the recommendations of previous inquiries, a national charities commission should be established to monitor, regulate and provide advice to all not-for-profit (NFP) organisations (including private ancillary funds). The charities commission should be tasked with streamlining the NFP tax concessions (including the application process for gift deductibility), and modernising and codifying the definition of a charity.
[3] Xenophon’s Tax Laws Amendment (Public Benefit Test) Bill 2010 seeks to reform the 1997 Income Tax Assessment Act.