Sunday, 19 February 2012

Debbie Cook Ungagged.

'I didn't want to fight Scientology. I knew what they were capable of'; United States
Jacqui Goddard
18 February 2012
The Times

A senior executive who fled the Church of Scientology complaining of torture and persecution decided to go public with her story after telling a Texas court that she had become "an important part of the biggest cover-up in Scientology history."

Debbie Cook, 50, testified that she left the Church after witnessing a "horror story" of abuse against members, including beatings and false imprisonment allegedly ordered by its self-appointed leader, David Miscavige.

She spoke out despite claims made in court of a sinister campaign of intimidation aimed at silencing her. "I know what they are capable of. I never wanted to wade into battle with the Church," she said in an interview with The Times.

She told the court that the "horrific" violations she witnessed were at odds with the religion to which she has dedicated her life since the age of 14.

Mr Miscavige is blamed by many Scientology defectors for having turned what they see as an uplifting and purposeful religion into a cult dictatorship. Those who challenged his methods were punished, sometimes violently, Ms Cook testified in San Antonio district court last week.

Ms Cook and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, have been excommunicated by friends, relatives and business contacts who are under the Church's control over an e-mail that she sent to members last month urging them to restore the organisation to the principles on which it was founded in 1952 by L. Ron Hubbard.

It complained of Mr Miscavige's alleged coercive fundraising strategies, which have built the Church a reported billiondollar fortune, and autocratic leadership, which included dealing out "long and harsh" punishment to those who displeased him. Ms Cook's experiences included physical assaults and 45 days' imprisonment at a detention centre, known as the Hole, while working for the Church in California under Mr Miscavige's personal direction, she told the court. She added that she witnessed other executives being beaten and forced into degrading rituals by Mr Miscavige's lieutenants.

Ms Cook told The Times: "I had got tremendous personal benefit from Scientology, I dedicated my life to it, I loved what I did. Then you see things and somehow it just takes a bit before you figure out what's really happening." She still supported Scientology, but not its leadership.

After the Hole she returned to Florida, where she was shadowed everywhere to prevent her escape, the court was told. "There's a procedure when someone of significance blows [defects]," Ms Cook testified. "People are put on tracking you down. They're sent to the airport, the bus stop. They're sent where your family is."

The Church sought an injunction last week to silence Ms Cook, saying that her e-mail violated a gagging clause in her contract.

It withdrew its attempt after she spoke in court. In a statement, the Church dismissed her allegations as "extreme falsity" and said it would now seek a summary judgment against her, adding: "Church counsel is pleased that Ms Cook has admitted to the facts confirming both her agreement and the irreparable harm caused to the Church through her actions."

Accusing her of disparaging Church officials, executing a bitter hate campaign and trying to extort the Church for money, it added: "The Church refuses to let her continue under the guise of judicial privilege to falsely disparage the Church. In three hours of testimony she did not have a positive statement to make about anyone she ever encountered in her decades long Scientology career. Moreover, true or false, her statement about Church staff clearly violates the ministerial privilege. The Church fully intends to use its ecclesiastical procedures grounded in Church scripture to expose Cook's false testimony and ecclesiastical transgressions."

Debbie Cook told a court of a "sinister campaign to silence her"

In a closely watched case, the inner-workings of the Church of Scientology were laid bare Thursday in state district court as a former top church official testified about serial abuse and the enforced confinement of church officials.

"Mrs. Cook was beaten, she was tortured and she was degraded beyond belief. And she was confined in inhumane conditions," Ray Jeffrey, representing Debbie Cook, stated as the hearing opened before Judge Martha Tanner.

Cook, 50, a long-time top official of the church in Florida, is being sued here for allegedly violating an extensive non-disclosure agreement that she signed in October 2007, when she finally left the church.

She and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, moved to Texas later that year.

The hearing that began Thursday is over a highly restrictive injunction imposed last week forbidding the pair from talking to almost anyone about the case or about Scientology.

The basis for the litigation was a Dec. 31 email the pair sent to several thousand other Scientologists that took issue with various church practices, including constant fundraising and questionable treatment of church executives.

And while Cook said the missive was meant to be constructive and she considers herself to be a good Scientologist, the church reacted by suing her and her husband, claiming they had broken their non-disclosure contracts.

"It's simply about the defendants being required to live up to agreements they made back in 2007. They were made freely and knowingly. The agreements were that they would not disclose information about the church and would not disparage the church," said George Spencer Jr., representing the church.

And, he told the judge, each of the two had accepted $50,000 from the church as part of the agreement. The church is seeking at least $300,000 in damages from the couple.

Jeffrey, however, told the judge that Cook's signature, and that of her husband on a similar 10-page agreement, were the result of "extreme duress and undue influence," making the contract unenforceable on numerous grounds.

Ironically, in trying to silence Cook about fairly minor matters, the church inadvertently ungagged her by putting her on the witness stand. And on Thursday, she testified for four hours about bizarre and disturbing practices she claims she both witnessed and suffered.

At times tearful, Cook told of spending seven weeks in "The Hole," at the church's Los Angeles international headquarters in early 2007. She said she was sent there with about 100 other church officials who had displeased church leader David Miscavige.

"It had bars on the windows and the one entrance was guarded by security guards," she explained, when asked why she didn't leave.

At "The Hole," she testified, people slept on the floor, were denied medical attention and were served watery "slop" served from a big pot. She described how those kept there were forced to confess to things they hadn't done and were sometimes beaten.

"It had very heavy spiritual and mental effects," she said.

In her case, she said, she was once forced to stand for 12 hours in a garbage can, while having cold water poured over her and people shouting at her, because she refused to confess falsely that she was a lesbian.

"You felt completely degraded, very terrified that you'd have to go through the confessions or be beaten. And because you hadn't been sleeping, you were in a horrific mental state," she said.

She named one man who she said was beaten and then forced to lick a bathroom floor clean after objecting to violence against others.

By the time Cook's testimony wrapped up late Thursday afternoon, Cook had told about how she had escaped from Scientology's facility in Clearwater, Fla., in the fall of 2007 by commandeering a church vehicle.

But, she said, the church tracked her to South Carolina, and then tricked her into returning.

Back in Florida, she said, she and her husband were again held against their will at a guarded facility for three weeks and were told they had to make confessions.

"I freaked out very severely. I called my mother and told her if I wasn't out in three days to call police," she said. She said she also threatened to commit suicide if she was not released.

The threats persuaded church officials to relent, but at the time she signed the contract, Cook testified, she would have agreed to anything.

"I had no thoughts about it. I knew I had to sign the papers," she said.

Earlier in the Thursday hearing, Spencer had played a video that showed Cook signing the non-disclosure documents that had been brought by a church lawyer from California.

Crying at times on the video while answering the lawyer's questions in a subdued voice, Cook agreed with almost everything the lawyer stated, including that she was leaving the church voluntarily and for medical reasons.

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