Subject: legible version of Underwager and Wakefields commentary and summary
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Untying the Gordion Knot: A Return to Reason

Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield

ABSTRACT: The Country Walk case in Miami, Florida, in which Ileana
Fuster confessed, is often used as an example of a day care case where
the bizarre, ritualistic abuse was, in fact, corroborated. Recently,
however, Ileana Fuster gave a sworn statement in which she described
extremely questionable behaviors on the part of her defense attorney,
two psychologists, and the state's attorney, Janet Reno. Ileana's
statement suggests that her confession was most likely false and was
elicited by highly coercive procedures over the two years she was in
solitary confinement prior to the trial. This introduction is followed
by the transcript of Ileana's deposition.

In the Fourth Century, B. C., Alexander the Great solved the problem
of untying the Gordion knot with one swift slash of his sword. With
this solution to loosening the knot that artfully concealed the ends,
Alexander fulfilled the oracle that predicted the person who solved the
knot would rule Asia. Ever since, his swift choice of a reasonable
alternative to an intractable problem has served as a paradigm of the
exercise of reason to cut quickly through a difficult morass of

The transcript of a statement by Ileana Fuster that follows this
introductory essay may show how a modern Gordion knot may be cut with
a swift, decisive stroke.  At the least this transcript points to how
it is beginning to unravel. It may well lead to an appellate reversal
of the conviction of Frank Fuster in the 1986 Country Walk child
sexual abuse case in Miami. It may also result in an opportunity for
courageous leaders to remind the entire justice system that there can
be no tolerance of malfeasance or misconduct by any prosecutor,
including Janet Reno, the Attorney General of the United States.

The unfounded dogmas, theories, assertions of fact, guesses, policies,
procedures, early flawed research, techniques, laws, networks of
professionals, bureaucracies, politicians, and rhetoric that form the
current sexual abuse system, like the Gordion knot, is a huge, tangled
mass with no easy way to pick out an end to start untying it. There
may be no sharp blade available to cut through the tightly bundled
strands. But untie it we must. Scientific analysis of the level of
error of the decisions made in accusations of sexual abuse suggests
this knotted up system may be doing more harm to more people, children
and adults, than it benefits or protects (Wakefield & Underwager, 1994a,
1994b). It must be changed.

It is important to understand that the development of this flawed
contemporary approach to child abuse is an anomaly when the history of
psychological investigation of child witnesses is understood (Ceci &
Bruck, 1993). It is an aberrant eruption of irrationality in a
situation with few facts. It may serve as a corrective to past
oversights, but the cost is far too high. The damage done to
individuals, to children, to parents, to our nation, and to our
culture by this mistaken rush to reach the goal of reducing the abuse
done to children is beyond calculation. Nevertheless, the cost of this
folly is beginning to be apparent to more and more people (Armbrister,

The two cases that alerted the national consciousness to accusations
of sexual abuse were the 1984 Jordan, Minnesota sexual abuse
allegations and the McMartin case in California, which came to trial
several years later although both began at the same time. In those two
instances, there were no convictions but rather sufficient evidence for
a jury to conclude that adult influence on children produced mistaken

However, there have also been highly publicized, controversial cases
in which there were convictions. A number of these cases have been
used to support and validate the dogmas and speculations that make up
and maintain the massive knot we face. The Miami Country Walk case is
one of them. If these cases, which are cited to prove claims otherwise
quite vulnerable to a reasoned skepticism, are overturned or reversed,
it helps us return to rational efforts to improve the accuracy of

There are two processes going on that are loosening the strands and
opening up the possibility of a return to a more reasoned and accurate
way to make decisions about accusations of child sexual abuse. The
first is in the science of psychology where continuing research is
producing more clarity and more accurate knowledge of the factors
involved. This development is carefully described by Ceci (1994). The
growing body of more ecologically valid research with greater
specificity leads him to conclude that, on balance, the weight is on
the side of the defense concern about false allegations and adult
behaviors toward children that increase the likelihood of false
positives. In addition to the growing body of more adequate research
in memory, suggestibility, and social influence, we are also beginning
to understand at least a little bit more about how to increase the
accuracy of the decisions made.

The second process that is beginning to unravel the knot is in the
justice system where, after several years, appellate reviews are
recognizing some of the errors that have been made and are moving to
correct them. While there are many appellate decisions involving
lesser known cases, some of the high visibility and highly
controversial convictions are being overturned as well. The
possibility of false accusations and wrongful convictions is evident
in many cases that have been overturned on appeal. The most recent
highly visible instance has been the decision of the New Jersey
Supreme Court in the Kelly Michaels case (State v.  Michaels, 136 NJ
299, Supreme Court of New Jersey, 642 Atlantic Reporter, 2d, 1372). We
were witnesses in the defense case in that trial and find it heartening
that the New Jersey Supreme Court validates and affirms the testimony
we gave in that case. The decision also establishes a procedure for a
"taint hearing." If the defense can demonstrate a reasonable cause to
believe adult influence on children in the course of disclosure,
investigation, or therapy, has tainted or contaminated their
statements, then the state has the burden of proof in a pretrial
hearing to demonstrate that the statements are reliable enough to be
admissible in a trial. A summary of other review decisions is Mason
(1991) who reviews 122 appellate decisions involving child sexual
abuse cases. There have been many more since then, of course.

The Country Walk case in Miami, 1986, in which Frank Fuster was
convicted primarily on the basis of a purported confession by his
young wife, Ileana, has been cited frequently by the proponents of a
prosecutorial view. There were incriminating statements by a number of
children but it is also the case that there is ample evidence of
extremely leading, coercive, and suggestive interviewing and
investigation of the children.

The conviction and Ileana's purported confession are claimed to
demonstrate that children's accounts can be reliable even when they
have been subjected to coercive, leading, and repeated interviews
(Goodman, Aman, & Hirschman, 1987). Crewdson (1988) asserts that this
case proves the allegations of satanic, ritualistic abuse are true
even when accounts by children seem bizarre and impossible. Finkelhor,
Williams, and Burns (1988) use it to show that individuals establish
day care centers for the express purpose of abusing children, that
abuse occurs in family day care settings, that women procure children
for men to abuse, that it corroborates ritualistic abuse, that it
proves criminal record checks must be required of day care employees,
that children in day care are at high risk for molestation, that
attractive children are abused more frequently and systematically,
that children are forced to sexually abuse other children, that
children are drugged, that parents miss obvious signs that abuse is
going on, that fantastic accounts by children can be believed because
this case corroborated them, that parental pressure to pursue an
investigation is desirable, that parents and investigators should be
partners in the investigation, that strong cases can pressure
perpetrators to confess, that media coverage can aid a prosecution,
and, finally, that angry parents who organize can accomplish desired
changes in policy and law. Summit (1993) maintains the Country Walk
case refutes the defense claim that children can be indoctrinated by
adults to produce accounts of abuse.

The conviction of Frank Fuster in the Country Walk trial is now in the
first stages of an appeal seeking review by higher courts. The appeal
is based on the claim of new evidence emerging after the conviction.
The new evidence includes the recent scientific research mentioned as
the first unraveling factor. The second is the development of evidence
strongly suggesting that Ileana's confession was coerced and that it
is the product of improper, unethical, and possibly even illegal acts
by attorneys, mental health professionals, and the then Dade County
District Attorney, Janet Reno.

The first public indication of evidence that the confession cannot be
seen simply as full and reliable corroboration of all the accusations
was in the article by Debbie Nathan (1993), "Revisiting Country Walk,"
published in this journal.  Nathan carefully and responsibly
investigated the facts available, interviewed many of the persons
involved, and presents hard data demonstrating that Ileana's defense
attorney had strong motivation to get out of the case and cooperate
with the prosecution, even to the extent of proffering a confession
before she had confessed. He brought in two psychologists who engaged
in intense, highly coercive procedures to elicit a confession. During
this effort, the psychologist reported that Janet Reno visited Ileana
in her cell at least 30 times.

Nathan shows that, even in what is supposed to be the corroborating
confession given in court, Ileana denied any guilt and claimed she was
innocent.  Following the appearance of that article, during the time
when Janet Reno was nominated and subsequently confirmed as Attorney
General of the United States, several other print media raised the
question of Reno's involvement in this coercive effort and suggested
the possibility of a forced false confession. Now we have a statement,
under oath, by Ileana Fuster that substantiates and affirms Nathan's
account. She describes her experience from her arrest to the trial and
her forced testimony.

Ileana's statement, if accurate, presents an astonishing portrayal of
coercive, inhumane, unjust, and emotional and psychological torture,
perpetrated by a justice system that has abandoned any pretense of
seeking justice for all, but is concerned only with winning cases. To
be sure, the District Attorney's office did not use thumb screws, the
rack, or electric shock. But psychological and emotional techniques
devised to reduce a human being to an obedient, compliant, and
cooperative slave were inflicted upon a 17-year-old woman who came to
this country to seek a better life but found horror.

We do not believe that this young woman could have the sophistication,
knowledge, or imagination to fabricate her account given in the
transcript. We believe the details and the description she gives could
only come from having gone through the experiences she relates. When
she says that she remembers other things from that period but then
says she has no memory of any abuse, this is the way human memory
actually works.

When you read Ileana's statement you will find a high level of
correspondence between what was done to her and the descriptions of
the coercive techniques used with captive Americans analyzed by Lifton
(1961) and Schein (1961) following the Korean war. Lifton describes
twelve psychological steps in the process of coercing a confession.
First is the assault upon identity in which a person is placed "in the
position of an infant or sub-human animal, helplessly manipulated by
larger and stronger adults." Second is the establishment of guilt by
the infallible environment, "You are guilty," and the psychologically
demanding, "You must learn to feel guilty." Third is self-betrayal in
denouncing friends and colleagues and accepting "help" and in turn
helping others. Fourth is the breaking point when the total
environment is understood to be inflexible and the "stubborn criminal"
has to change. Then follows leniency and kindness where the total
environment does not budge but lets up on the pressure sufficiently
for the prisoner to absorb its values and adapt to them. The next step
is the compulsion to confess because only those who confess will
survive. Once this is begun, then the guilt is channeled into
reinterpretation of events. Next comes re- education during which the
prisoner is faced with endless repetition of the required "truths"
until he thinks and feels in terms of the new reality. When the no
longer strange total environment is accepted, a sense of harmony is
nurtured by receiving positive reinforcements. The final confession
and summing up is the delivery of a correct and acceptable version
(pp. 67P85).

Schei's (1961) analysis of the reports and descriptions he studied as
an Army research psychologist includes three successive stages labeled
"unfreezing," "changing," and "refreezing." He provides detailed
analysis of each of these three steps and discusses the factors needed
to bring about the change. Unfreezing is overcoming the resistance of
the prisoner to confessing something that is not true. This is
accomplished by the influence agent strengthening the forces toward
confession and weakening the forces against confession. Almost all of
the ways Schein describes how this is done are evident in the account
of Ileana. Once unfrozen, the influence agent provides guidance for
altering beliefs. This is changing. Then come refreezing or fixing the
prisoner in the changed beliefs.  The steps to accomplish this are set
forth. First is precipitation of an identity crisis. Then comes the
induction of a motive to find acceptable beliefs about the self within
the total environment. The third step is providing information helpful
to the prisoner in finding acceptable beliefs. Fourth is presentation
of another person whose identity is acceptable to the total
environment. This is followed by identification with the other
person. Finally, what the other person says is accepted as credible
information (Schein, 1961, pp. 117P139).

This brief summary of these two reports cannot do full justice to the
close parallels between their description of the coercive process that
produced false confessions and the experience described by this young
woman. We urge you to read carefully through the statement, then
obtain Lifton's and Schein's reports and study them in light of what
you have learned about the things done to Ileana in Dade County,

Another documented instance where coercive persuasion led to false
confessions of child sexual abuse, including bizarre and impossible
ritualistic and satanic behaviors, is the Paul Ingram case in
Washington. The procedures and techniques used in eliciting erroneous
confessions that led to subjective belief by Ingram are similar to
those evident in the statement by Ileana and Nathan's 1993 article.
What was done to Paul Ingram is described by Ofshe (1992), Ofshe and
Watters (1994), and Wright (1993). Although there are many
similarities, Ileana's experience includes even more severe and
unconscionable acts by the authorities than are found in the Ingram
record. In the Ingram case, for example, there is no indication of two
years of solitary confinement, enforced nakedness, freezing cold,
special evenings at restaurants, or multiple visits by the District

The psychologists, sent by the defense attorney, also used hypnotic
procedures, fantasy inductions, memory work as the recovered memory
therapists do it, interminably repeated questions, anger, pressure,
mockery, affection, rewards, and reinforcements. Ileana was kept in
solitary confinement, often naked and cold, for over two years. She had
no contact with people other than those who created a total
environment of pressure and conformity. At least twice she was taken
out to a restaurant for dinner by investigators from the District
Attorney's office. Often, while the psychologists applied their
coercive techniques, Janet Reno sat next to her holding her hand. Such
close cooperation, if not collusion, between prosecutor and defense
attorney is quite unusual, to say the least. If outlined in a human
rights report to Amnesty International or the United States Congress,
the methods endorsed, approved, and practiced by Ms. Reno would
"justly be called brainwashing" (Cockburn, 1993).

The article by Nathan and the statement by Ileana Fuster present a
picture that suggests Janet Reno suborned perjury. At the very least,
it indicates that Reno either approved or allowed procedures and
techniques that are so coercive that the best comparison is the
techniques and approaches used by the Chinese with American prisoners
of war.

If this were the only time Janet Reno directed a questionable child
sexual abuse prosecution, it might be seen as an isolated instance of
poor judgment. However, Reader's Digest, hardly an extremist
publication, carefully examined the case of Bobby Fijnje, a
14-year-old lad prosecuted by Reno in 1991 (Armbrister, 1994).  This
report shows that Reno, once again, presided over an inept, coercive
investigation in which little children were led to produce accounts of
events that clearly could not have happened. The Reader's Digest
description of this includes a closing comment: "Then you had an
ambitious State Attorney who wanted to make a name for herself. The
result was a tragic miscarriage of justice" (Armbrister, 1994, p. 40).

When it was first announced that Ms. Reno was being considered for
nomination for the Attorney General's office, the article by Nathan
(1993), published in this journal was faxed to the White House.
Assuming it was read by someone, the administration of President
Clinton proceeded with her nomination with knowledge of the likelihood
that Reno may have behaved very badly in coercing the confession from
Ileana. In addition to this, Bob Fijnje, who had a distinguished
career in the Dutch Foreign Service, father of Bobby, "sent a letter
to the Senate Judiciary Committee; in it he charged that Reno had
Tabused my son by her actions and robbed him of one year, eight months
and one week of his life' " (Armbrister, 1994, p. 40). Nothing
happened. Nobody talked to the Fijnjes. No senator even questioned her
about the case or the Country Walk case. She was confirmed by the
Senate without a dissenting vote.

No one pursued any inquiry then. Even with the addition of the
statement from Ileana, an investigation of this case may well never
occur. Janet Reno is now the chief law enforcement official in the
country, a fact which should cause considerable alarm. It may also
mean that no one will dare attend to the credible evidence of at least
strikingly poor judgment if not wrongdoing. Established power does not
deal with perceived threats to its position with empathy,
understanding, or admission of error. In his nomination of Reno,
President Clinton cited her record in prosecuting child abuse and said
it shows "She has truly put people first" (Armbrister, 1994,
p. 40). This may be another instance of the ambiguous attitude toward
truth that many American citizens believe characterizes this

In her first press conference Reno said she was personally opposed to
the death penalty but that, as prosecutor, when she believed the
evidence and the law justified it, she consistently asked for it. At
least since the days of Thomas More and Henry VIII there has been a
strong tradition in our culture that when desires of the sovereign,
laws, or policies are morally and intellectually repugnant to you, you
do not take jobs or responsibilities that require you to act against
your conscience. This principle was clearly enforced in the Nirenberg
trials following World War II. Cockburn (1993) observes that Reno's
position is no different than Adolf Eichmann who said he, too, was
opposed to the Final Solution but went ahead with the calculations of
how many Jews could be forced into a cattle car on their way to the
gas chambers.

Reno's readiness to respond with poor judgment when there is an
allegation of child sexual abuse and her willingness to put the
requirements of the job ahead of her own moral persuasions may well
have come to fruition in the conflagration at Waco where 87 American
citizens, including 17 children, died under the treads of American
battle tanks. She said that night, after the nation had watched the
killing flames all day, that her decision to invade the compound was
prompted by the report of sexual abuse of children in the community in
Waco (Wakefield & Underwager, 1994b). The official FBIJreport on the
tragedy acknowledges that the report of sexual abuse was false.

While it is troublesome that ambitious individuals with records of
disastrous errors in judgment can rise to positions of high authority
and considerable influence, both in mental health professions and the
justice system, it is more common than most realize. Yet there is also
hope that the continued shared search for factual knowledge in both
areas can ultimately prevail. Science has a built in corrective that,
while there may be a delay until sufficient facts are known, uncovers

The justice system, when wrongdoing is known and acknowledged to have
produced error, seeks exposure of the wrongdoing and righting the
injustice.  However, this requires strong and courageous leadership by
someone with sufficient position to run the risks.

Surely, we all understand that it is good to protect children from
abuse. But in order to do this, we must strive for the most accurate
decisions possible. In this manner the confusing and puzzling Gordion
knot can be untied and we can pursue true justice and good lives for
our children together.

If the appeal in the Country Walk case is successful and the admission
of the coerced confession is recognized as a reversible error, there
will be a powerful precedent that may well permit the review of other
cases where the presence of similar factors can be shown. Justice may
finally be granted to innocent persons who have been victims of error
in a justice system gone crazy. Such a shift in the direction of more
attention to accuracy will be beneficial to adults and children
alike. It is essential for the well being of the nation as well. No
nation can long endure such institutionalized and systematic error in
the justice system to which citizens look for fairness and protection
of their liberties (Tyler, 1984; 1990).


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