from _The_Nation_. March 8, 1993 Beat the Devil JANET RENO'S COERCED CONFESSION by Alexand
from _The_Nation_. March 8, 1993
Beat the Devil
JANET RENO'S COERCED CONFESSION
by Alexander Cockburn
Janet Reno used a 17-year-old undocumented Honduran worker to help
her win a fierce re-election battle for Dade County prosecutor
back in 1984. Ileana Fuster, the young woman in question, received
a ten-year prison sentence as a reward for testifying against her
husband, Francisco, who pulled six life terms plus 165 years.
What is troublesome here is the manner in which Clinton's nominee
for A.G. pressured Ileana to turn against her husband. If
outlined in a human rights report the methods endorsed by Reno
would justly be called brainwashing. They included isolation,
quasi-hypnosis, conditioned response and kindred mind-bending
Having presided over the reduction of the young Honduran woman to
psychic flotsam, Reno then huddled next to her, holding her hand
while the prosecutor's hired "psychologists" guided Ileana through
the catechism that produced her own confession and her husband's
The Country Walk case in Miami was a benchmark in the growth of
our own century's echo of the Salem witch trials, the "ritual
abuse" persecutions that have landed scores of innocent people in
prison with hard time. It began less than a year after the
McMartin preschool case started in Los Angeles in 1983 [see "Beat
the Devil," February 12, 1990]. The account of it that follows is
drawn from a compelling report by Debbie Nathan, now being
published in Issues in _Child_Abuse Accusations_ (Vol. 5, No. 1,
available by calling 501-645-8881). Another account of the case,
_Unspeakable_Acts_, by Jan Hollingsworth, and an ABC docudrama based
on her book are both seriously flawed by Hollingsworth's financial,
political and personal ties to parents and investigators involved in
In 1984 Francisco Fuster, a 36-year-old Cuban immigrant, was
running a home-based babysitting service with Ileana in the
wealthy Miami suburb of Country Walk. The case began when a
3-year-old boy asked his mother to "kiss my body. Ileana kisses
all the babies' bodies."
As a Miami-based anthropologist, Rafael Martinez, consultant to
the Dade County Medical Examiner's Office, told Nathan, in
traditional Latin American cultures "kissing and hugging is common
with children up to three and four years old. It is common for
females to kiss children all over the place -- including on the
In the North American culture of those early Reagan years, on the
other hand, adults were learning that kissing and hugging of young
children, or even more genteel contact with them in a day-care
center, could swiftly lead to charges of oral copulation, sodomy,
forced consumption of mind-altering drugs and alcohol, anal
penetration with a crucifix, obscene magic ritual, unregulated
transport of minors by broomstick across state lines and kindred
phantasms of the circuit riders of Satanic abuse.
All this lay in store for the Fusters, whose clientele were soon
being interviewed by Joseph and Laurie Braga, retained by the
state as "expert" interrogators of children, though their skills
were most conspicuously displayed in hectoring their tiny sub
jeers and forcing them with remorseless leading questions into
following a predetermined agenda of incrimination.
Nathan's transcription of one such interrogation -- in which
4-year-old "J.L." bravely insists, in the face of outrageous
leading questions by Mrs. Braga, on the Fusters' kindness and
proper behavior -- is searing. Bullied and cajoled, "J.L." finally
accepts the prepared script. God help the psyches of all these
involuntary bearers of false testimony.
The Dade County prosecutor's office soon found out that Francisco
had done time in New York for manslaughter, and had also been
convicted of lewd assault for fondling a 9-year-old girl. On the
other hand, his ex-wife denied he had exhibited any paraphilia,
and other family members said his relations with children were
affectionate, nonviolent and nonsexual. With one exception, no
child lodged at the Fusters' displayed any physical sign of sexual
molestation. The exception, Francisco's son, was deemed to have
tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. I say "deemed"
because Nathan reports that the testing method then in vogue has
since turned out to be utterly unreliable. Three years after
Fuster's conviction researchers at the Centers for Disease Control
showed that the test could not distinguish the gonorrhea culture
from others occurring normally in both adult and juvenile throats
(irrespective of sexual activity). When the C.D.C. examined
samples from children who had supposedly tested positive for the
bacterium that causes venereal gonorrhea, more than a third of the
samples turned out to contain a different organism. The Fuster
child's sample was destroyed before a retrospective analysis of it
could be made.
Darkness at Noon
Throughout the interrogations the Fusters vehemently insisted on
their innocence, and the case was threatening to become a
political liability for Reno. In her re-election campaign against
a strong challenger she was promising "justice" -- that is,
Nathan gives an admirable account of how Reno's political
emergency dovetailed with a crisis for the Fusters' defense
attorney, Michael Yon Zamft, who was finding that public hysteria
over the Country Walk affair was imperiling his larger career
ambitions. His solution was to sever Ileana's case from
Francisco's and "persuade" her to confess that yes, she was an
abuser, but only because she had been acting under duress.
Francisco's defender thus became his prosecutor. The only
inhibition to this agenda was Ileana. She told a chaplain at the
jail where she was being held that the district attorney and her
lawyer wanted her to say things about her husband that weren't
true. Ileana was terrified of being held in solitary. She'd
already experienced such treatment during the first seven months
of her imprisonment, sometimes being kept naked under a "suicide
watch," and she found it unendurable. By the summer of 1985 she
was back in isolation again. Although she had now been separated
from her husband for a period as long as they had been married
prior to her arrest eleven months -- Ileana, eight weeks into
solitary, insisted on his innocence.
A psychologist was mustered who duly declared that Ileana was a
"needy child" under Francisco's domination. He announced that he
could "get her to respond in any way that I pushed her... and she
would be interested in pleasing me, so I wouldn't be mad at her."
All that was now required was a confession, and Yon Zamft
recruited another psychologist, Michael Rappaport, who with his
partner, Merry Sue Haber, ran a Miami business called Behavior
Changers. You could say that Rappaport had experience in the
field, having done time in Fort Leavenworth military prison for
adultery and sodomy with two women he was counseling. He himself
was ordered by the Florida Department of Professional Review to be
under the supervision of a psychologist -- namely his partner, Haber.
Rappaport visited Ileana in her cell at least thirty-four times,
putting her through "visualization" exercises, contrasting the
lenient treatment she would receive consequent upon a confession
with the dire punishments ahead if she were uncooperative. "It's
a lot like reverse brainwashing," he later told Nathan. "We just
spent hours and hours talking to her.... It's kind of a
manipulation. It was very much like dealing with a child. You make
them feel very happy, then segue into the hard things."
While this exercise in applied mental disintegration was going on,
Ileana was, according to Rappaport, receiving a surprising number
of visits from prosecutor Reno, whose involvement in the case had
Ileana broke on August 21, stating during a polygraph test that
she and Francisco had molested the children. Confessions were
conjured out of her in subsequent depositions, often with Reno
holding her hand while Rappaport hugged her. As Nathan puts it,
"When viewed chronologically, Ileana's `confession' depositions
also suggest that many of her statements were confabulations or
fabrications cued by her jailhouse visitors."
The material in the confessions echoed many of the staples of
ritual abuse charges. The Bragas were enthusiastic missionaries
for the "discoveries" about such "ritual abuse" then being elicited
in the McMartin case in Los Angeles. Reno, similarly obsessed, had
already been active in urging changes in evidentiary law to allow
the admission of videotaped charges leveled by children and other
star-chamber innovations advocated by the burgeoning ritual abuse
Snakes and Snake Oil
Ileana, prompted and coached by Rappaport, had been led into a
world of fantasy. She said Francisco had hung her in the garage by
her hands and his son by the ankles, and that he had also rubbed
feces on her legs and put snakes on both her and the children's
genitals. When a lawyer probed this accusation, she answered,
"Well, I remember a snake." "What about a snake?" the lawyer said.
"Having bad dreams about it," responded Ileana. If she failed to
recollect an atrocity on the stand, Rappaport would take her aside
for private counseling and then return her to give the appropriate
responses that she remembered "a tool thing" or "crowbar" Francisco
put "around" her vagina; that Francisco took a gun and placed it
on Ileana's vagina and fired it; that he poured acid on her
In her statement to the judge Ileana set her confession in
perspective: "I am not pleading guilty because I feel guilty... I
am innocent of all those charges. I wouldn't have done anything to
harm any children.... I am pleading guilty to get all of this
over... for my own good."
She was sentenced to ten years, served three and a half, and was
deported to Honduras, having divorced Francisco while in prison.
As have many victims of these persecutions, she turned to "Jesus,"
was "born again" and is now sequestered from journalistic inquiry by
an evangelical cult. Francisco is in prison, still insisting on
his innocence, while his nemesis, Janet Reno, heads for Washington.
Meanwhile, the Ritual Abuse Task Force, a subcommittee of Los
Angeles County's Commission for Women chaired by "psychologist"
Myra Riddell and comprising therapists, alleged victims and
religious leaders, recently claimed that Satanists are poisoning
them, along with other therapists and survivors of Satanic abuse
by means of a pesticide pumped into their offices, homes and cars.
They invited the county's chief of toxic epidemiology to listen to
their allegations, which he categorized as "outrageous."
It's doubtful Reno will be given any trouble about the Country
Walk case in her confirmation hearings, or about a later one
involving a Dutch youth, who was similarly isolated for long
months before being found innocent of abuse charges. The
January/February Ms. has a pseudonymous article once again
promoting the ritual abuse myth.
And guess who's behind all this ritual abuse? According to the
lore of the ritual abuse lobby, a man called Dr. Green or
Greenbaum is the leading promoter of Satanic child abuse in the
United States. As a Hasidic teenager in a concentration camp he
supposedly learned the essentials of the cultic lore from the
Nazis, adding his own cabalistic embroidery. So, ritual abuse ends
up as a subset of anti-Semitism. Pass that cup of Christian blood.
The "Personally" Cop-Out
Aside from her role in the Fuster case I find most bothersome
Reno's equable statement at her first news conference after being
nominated: "I'm personally opposed to the death penalty... but I
probably asked for it as much as many prosecutors in the country,
and have secured it, and when the evidence and the law justify the
death penalty I will ask for it, as I have consistently...."
The idea used to be that if laws or policies are morally and
intellectually repugnant to you, you should reject appointments
that will require you to enforce them. Reno's position isn't
qualitatively different from that of Adolf Eichmann, who said he
had a personal distaste for the Final Solution, though his career
situation compelled him to make topological calculations as to how
many Jews could be wedged into a cattle car on the way to the
Alexander Cockburn's column "Beat the Devil" appears biweekly
in The Nation. Subscriptions: $48 per year to PO Box 10763,
Des Moines, IA 50340. Editorial Offices: 72 Fifth Avenue,
New York, NY 10011.
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