66 U.S. Cultists Still Being Held in Argentina
The New York Times/1993-09-26
By NATHANIEL C. NASH
Special to the New York Times
BUENOS AIRES. Sept. 25 — More than three weeks after the Argentine police-raided 10 homes of a religious group formerly known as the Children of God, nearly 60 Americans remain in custody, constituting the largest group of United States citizens being held by a foreign court. Of that number, 7 adults have been charged with crimes that include sexually abusing children, hiding minors, corrupting minors, violating their rights and racketeering.
As many as 50 children who are believed to be United States citizens have been placed in protective custody until investigations and court hearings are held. Of the adults in the group, called the Family. 12 are staying with the children in seven state and private institutions in the Buenos Aires area.
In total, 21 adults have been charged in federal court, and more than 150 children and minors have been placed in protective custody. State Department officials say the case is extraordinary, since it involves so many Americans, but add that they are unable to intervene in the court proceedings.
"Since this involves the laws and courts of another sovereign state, the most we can do is be sure the Americans charged with crimes arc being treated well, not mistreated, and have access to legal counsel," a State Department official said in a telephone interview. "We are also making sure the children in custody are being treated well, and we find that under the particularly difficult circumstances, they appear to be O.K."
Members of the Family, however, give a somewhat different account, asserting that the authorities have forced them to pay for their own food while being detained, accusing the police of robbing them of their money and saying officials have deprived them of basic comforts like blankets.
They also say they have been frustrated in trying to find their children in the aftermath of the raid. Mary Weiler, a member.of the group who was traveling at the time, said it had taken her four days to find out where all of her children were taken and that she had been denied entrance into some of the places where they are being held.
"I was afraid to go to the police station because I fell they would arrest me too, and then I could not be of any help to my children," she said.
Alan Edson, another member who was among the 30 leaders arrested on Sept. 1, was released two days later. He said that the police had ridiculed them in prison and that they had given them only 8 blankets for 30 people.
"They told us 'You are Christian brothers and your purpose is to suffer - so you work it out'," Mr. Edson said.
The Argentina case against the group, which has branches in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia, is one with few precedents in Argentina. But the action also follows those of other countries against the Family. In Spain, France and Australia, similar court-ordered raids and arrests have been carried out against the group. But none of its members has been reported convicted of charges like sexual abuse or other related crimes.
The group, which started in the 1960s in California, has been described as combining a belief in the Bible as the truth of God with a free exchange of sex, including encouraging young children to engage in sex and using sex as a way to gain converts. Former members say they were forced to have sex as minors with adults. Current members of the group deny the accusation.