February 2, 2009

There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.

You can't escape the screams.
You can clamp shut your eyes, turn your back on the screen, scurry to the other end of the room, do plenty to get away from the images. But there's nothing you can do to get the screams out of your head.
At first, it was only the baby's wails of agony that pierced the silence, but then I noticed I was hearing another another person screaming. And then I realised it was me. Horrific is a word I over use: but this was horrific. It's the only way of describing what was in front of me. Even now, more than a year after seeing what I saw, I'm still haunted by the video. The truth is I didn't, couldn't, watch the whole thing. I managed only to look, with my eyes peeking through my fingers, for a few seconds before running away. But no matter where I went in that room, the screams chase after me. Both his and mine.
The baby could not be more than six months old. The man standing over him is his `father'. In the grainy video, it's clear to see what the father is doing to his baby boy. Your instinct is to smash through the screen and rescue the infant, beat five colours of shit out of the fucker who is doing those things to him and take the baby in your arms to protect him. And when you've done that, kick his father again. Just to make sure.
But, of course, there's nothing you can do except close your eyes and run away.
The video my colleague Jim Walpole and I saw was played for us inside one of the warren of rooms of the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, southern France. It was just one of a number of images a Garda officer, Detective Sergeant Michael Moran, showed us that day. It was a week or so after D/Sgt Moran - on secondment from the Garda Siochana with Interpol - had hit the headlines over Operation Vico.
The Criminal Intelligence Officer coordinated the international hunt for Neil, who photographed himself abusing young kids in south east Asia. Neil, a Canadian, got what was coming to him late last year when he was jailed in Thailand for abusing the kids. We were there to give Mick a Star/TV3 Best of Irish Award. In return, he gave us a brief glimpse of hell.
Mick keeps an outsized pair of headphones in his office. It's not so that he can listen to his bad music in peace. It's because people walking along the corridor outside his office complained about the sounds of babies and children crying as they were being abused in the videos Mick has to watch every day. Next time you think your job is tough, think of Mick and think again.
This is one of his favourite quotes: "There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter." Hemingway wrote that. It sums up perfectly Mick's job. Catching animals like Neil must be one hell of a buzz. Mick searches he internet for images of child abuse. he looks at each photo or video for clues that help him track down not only the victim but also the abuser. They're the bad days. The good days are when he gets to see shits like Neil caught. He recalled to me and Jim how he encountered Neil in the Thai police station after he was arrested. Mick was the only other Westerner there and Neil foolishly thought he could bond with the no nonsense Meath man. He looked up at him and shrugged his shoulders as if to say `This is a bit of a mess'. Mick just stared at him and didn't say a word. Neil looked away.

(This photo, taken by Jim Walpole, shows Mick Moran at his desk in Interpol. Note the Irish flag at the forefront and those outsized headphones behind him on the wall. I've crudely hidden what was on his computers. You don't want to know. © The Irish Daily Star.)

The little baby was called Baby Hee. What we were watching was an infamous video of child, baby, abuse. D/Sgt Moran occasionally uses it when giving talks to law enforcement personnel around the world on the reality of what he deals with on a day to day basis. He assured me my reaction was not unique. For the record, the father got caught. He's in jail in central Europe, but will be released soon. At least the baby was rescued.
And it wasn't only Baby Hee. There was a young girl who her father persuaded to do unspeakable poses for the camera. The smile on his face as she does his evil bidding was obscene. He was caught as he prepared to swap her with another paedophile's daughter. Both girls were rescued.
Looking at the images (which I have to say make you sick to the stomach for the abuse that is being perpetrated in them but also because it's mostly fathers doing it to their own kids and putting the pictures on the Internet) was a deeply distressing experience. I wasn't the same for weeks. It still affects me now.
But, as well as the infernal visions, I took something else away from that trip to Lyon; something much more important.
It was a new determination not to refer to these monstrous images as child pornography. That, to Mick Moran and many others, equates child rape photos to adult pornography. That is, almost always, modeled by men and women who, for whatever reason, voluntarily do what they do. The term child pornography almost softens the obscene.
But with these defenceless young kids, there's nothing voluntary. The reality is they're forced into it by people who have complete control over them. Not only do they abuse them, but they then get their kicks by bragging to other paedophiles and swapping the images with each other. Interpol, and other police agencies, prefer the term child abuse imagery.
Having seen what I saw that October day in Lyon, I can understand why.

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