Author Lawrence Wright writes in The New Yorker magazine that ex-members told him of physical and psychological abuse and how the church brought "escapees back" through emotional, spiritual or psychological pressure and physical force if necessary.
The New Yorker also says the allegations have been the subject of an FBI probe. In December 2009, FBI agent Tricia Whitehill of the Los Angeles, who worked on the human trafficking squad, flew to Florida to interview former members of the church in the agency's Clearwater office about "abuse," the magazine reported. The church's spiritual headquarters is based in Clearwater.
The author cites two sources in the FBI who "assured me that the case remains open." However, a federal law enforcement source told AOL News the investigation has fallen short and no criminal charges are expected to be filed. Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles, declined comment.
The article also focuses on Hollywood director Paul Haggis, who wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-winning "Million Dollar Baby" and directed "Crash," which won Best Picture for 2005. Haggis became disenchanted after 35 years with the church and tendered his resignation in August 2009 in a letter to Tommy Davis, the chief spokesman for the Church of Scientology International, according to the article.
In the letter, Haggis said he had been writing to Davis for 10 months asking that he publicly denounce the Church of Scientology of San Diego after a staff member signed an online petition supporting California's Proposition 8, which barred same-sex marriages, The New Yorker reported. He felt it condoned discrimination.
And Haggis said he was concerned that Davis had lied in a CNN interview in May 2008 when he denied that the church had a policy of "disconnection," which encourages members to cut off family or friends who criticize the church.
Haggis forwarded his resignation letter to Scientologist friends, including Travolta, actress Anne Archer and EarthLink founder Sky Dayton, hoping they would share his concerns, The New Yorker wrote. Instead, Haggis said, "They were horrified that I'd send a letter like that."
The New Yorker also wrote that some church members who "failed to fulfill their ecclesiastical responsibilities" were sent to the church's several Rehabilitation Project Force locations, which defectors described as "punitive re-education camps.'
Bruce Hines, a defector who became a research physicist, says he was confined to two separate camps for a total of six years, according to the article.
"He recalls that the properties were heavily guarded and that anyone who tried to flee would be tracked down and subjected to further punishment," The New Yorker article says.
Church spokesman Davis, according to The New Yorker, said church members entered the camps voluntarily and could leave any time.
NBC News reported this morning that Davis issued a statement saying: "It's unfortunate that the New Yorker introduced its readers to Scientology through the eyes of an apostate, someone religious scholars unanimously denounce as unreliable. The article is little more than a regurgitation of old allegations that have long been disproved."
The church told NBC it knows nothing about an investigation.