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Scientology showdown reveals claims of torture, abuse of dissenting members

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Rathbun rose to the highest levels in the church after joining at age 20, serving under only Miscavige himself from 1998 until his abrupt departure. He claims to have been the personal counselor for celebrity Scientologists like Cruise, Travolta, and Kirstie Alley. And Rathbun himself is no stranger to alleged harassment by the church. He kept a quiet, low profile on the Texas Gulf Coast until about 2009, when he started his own blog for “independent” Scientologists critical of the official church. He stepped out of the shadows to give lengthy, shocking interviews with CNN, The New Yorker, and others, alleging the Church of Scientology, in its current form, is more akin to cult than religion.

Last year, Rathbun was hounded around Ingleside by groups of men wearing odd helmets, toting cameras and wearing shirts emblazoned with a “Squirrel Busters” logo. The group, reportedly sent by the church, began distributing “Neighborhood Alerts” around town, calling Rathbun a violent criminal, mentally imbalanced, and part of a “cult-like hate group.”

Still, what's remarkable about the San Antonio case, Rathbun says, is how Cook confirmed, on the stand, much of what he and others have long been saying about the Church of Scientology. “The church tried to squash her, and in the process she went and verified and even went beyond everything people like me have been saying for years.”

When asked for a response to Cook's allegations, this is how church spokeswoman Karin Pouw described her: “Ms. Cook is now clearly bitter and is falsely vilifying the religion she was once a part of. … The defendants and their lawyer are trying to divert the court with false claims and wild tales to excuse her willful breach.”

On the stand last week, Cook gave a detailed, eerie account of how she was first thrown into “The Hole.” While she was working from an office at the church's California campus, Miscavige berated her for poor performance over the phone. Then there came a pounding on the door. She stayed fixed to the receiver, and, when the knocking stopped, two men pried open the office window and climbed inside. “Are they there?” Miscavige asked. When she said yes, he replied, “Goodbye.” She was off to “The Hole,” what she described as a series of double-wide trailers at the church's sprawling compound in the California desert. She went on to detail some of the treatment she faced during her seven weeks at the facility. “I was put in a trash can, cold water poured over me, slapped. Things like that. One time it went on for 12 hours,” she said, fighting back tears. She recalled an instance where one church executive who spoke out against the abuse was forced to lick a bathroom floor for a half hour. “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.” Some were beaten and accused of being gay. Leaders accused Cook of being a lesbian.

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