Afghan couple accuse US Marine of abducting their baby
A US Marine and his wife are accused of "abducting" an Afghan infant, under the pretext of adoption, and the family is pressing charges.
During the withdrawal of American soldiers from Afghanistan last year, the young Afghan couple dashed to Kabul's airport, keeping their infant child close.
The child had been rescued from under the rubble caused by a US Special Forces raid that had murdered her parents and five siblings two years before. She had gone to live with her cousin and his wife, a newlywed couple, after spending months in a US military hospital. The family was on their way to the United States for more medical treatment after a US Marine Corps attorney Joshua Mast allegedly chose to assist them.
According to a lawsuit filed this month, when the Afghans arrived at Washington DC International Airport in late August 2021, Mast pulled them out of the international arrivals line and led them to an inspecting officer. The parents were taken aback when Mast handed the infant an Afghan passport. But it was the last name on the document that put them off: Mast.
Letters, emails, and documents were submitted by a US marine that was determined to take the Afghan child.
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The little child, now three and a half years old, is at the focus of at least four legal lawsuits. The Afghan couple has filed a lawsuit against Joshua and his wife Stephanie Mast in order to reclaim their daughter. The Masts, on the other hand, claim they are her "legal" parents and have "behaved admirably" to safeguard her. They have requested that the lawsuit be dismissed by a federal judge.
The US departments of Defense, Justice, and State were all a part of the ordeal and argued that it was a threat to military and foreign relations. Mast reportedly snatched her away five days after the Afghans arrived in the United States, with custody documents in hand.
The Afghan woman slumped onto the floor and begged the Marine to return her kid. Mast had called her husband "brother" for months, so her husband requested him to act like one, with compassion. Instead, according to court documents, Mast shoved the man and stomped his foot.
That was more than a year ago. The Afghan couple hasn’t seen the baby girl since.
The 'rescued' baby
Hundreds of pages of legal papers and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as interviews with those involved, have been stitched together in an AP investigation.
The Afghan family accuses the Masts of wrongful detention, conspiracy, fraud, and abuse in a federal lawsuit filed in September.
The Afghan family's assertions are "outrageous, unjustified attacks" on the Masts' integrity, according to the Masts. In court filings, they claim that they have worked "to protect the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm." They claim the Afghan couple is "not her rightful parents," and Mast's lawyer questions if the Afghans are even related to the child.
Attorneys for the Afghan couple, Sehla Ashai and Maya Eckstein, reject Mast's account. According to reports, the baby's parents were simple farmers with no political ties. The air raid and its aftermath are viewed as a tragedy that killed two innocent civilians and five of their children.
Both parties agree that after the dust settled, the US troops - who carried out the strike that led to the death of the baby's entire direct family - extracted the severely injured infant from the rubble. The child had a fractured skull, a broken leg, and severe burns. She was about 2 months old.
The International Committee of the Red Cross told AP that they began searching for her family with the Afghan government.
According to a State Department employee, Mast inquired about adoption without having looked for any of her family members at a time when participants from Afghanistan's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs said they were required by Afghan law and culture to place the infant with her original family. If that fails, the Afghan Children's Court will appoint a proper guardian.
It is worth noting that in Afghanistan, the American concept of adoption doesn’t even exist.
The Masts went as far as attempting to deprive the baby of her family by claiming she is "stateless". They filed a petition with the local Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, characterizing the child as a "stateless kid recovered from the battlefield." A judge gave them legal custody in early November 2019. Because juvenile records in Virginia are sealed, the identity of this judge is not publicly available.
A few days later, a certificate of foreign birth listed Joshua and Stephanie Mast as parents.
According to a hearing transcript, the custody order was predicated on the Masts' statement that the Afghan government, notably now-deposed President Ashraf Ghani, intended to relinquish jurisdiction over the child "in a matter of days." The waiver was never delivered.
Mast was given custody, according to the US Embassy. According to a State Department official, military lawyers informed them that the Marine was only preparing in case Afghanistan renounced jurisdiction and that he would not interfere with the hunt for the baby's relatives.
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According to data received from the state of Virginia through a Freedom of Information Act request, they planned to adopt the infant all along. In November 2019, Richard Mast, Joshua's brother, wrote to the Attorney General's office, stating that the Masts "will file for adoption as soon as statutorily possible."
Meanwhile, Joshua Mast enrolled the infant in the Defense Department's healthcare system, scheduled an appointment at a US International Adoption Clinic, and requested that she be removed.
Then came a surprise: The Red Cross said they’d found her family. She was about five months old.
According to a State Department official, Mast's counsel submitted a "stop and desist" letter to the US Embassy, instructing them not to hand over the infant. However, on February 26, 2020, the Masts discovered that the United States was planning to place the infant, who was now about 8 months old, on a plane early the next morning to join her family in another Afghan city.
Mast believed that the baby should not be "condemned to suffer." Marine Mast, willing to go as far as interfering with a nation's own laws, protested that the Afghan authorities had not undertaken DNA testing to ensure that the family they had discovered was indeed linked to the child.
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A family closure
The federal government's attorneys called the Masts' state court custody paperwork "illegal," "seriously defective and wrong," and "issued on a false assumption that has never transpired" - that Afghanistan would renounce jurisdiction.
Judge Moon asked Richard Mast, “Your client is not asking to adopt the child?”
“No sir,” Mast responded. “He wants to get her medical treatment in the United States.”
Attorneys for the Justice Department claimed that the United States must fulfill its international responsibilities. Taking another country's citizen to the United States, according to attorney Alexander Haas, "would potentially have profound implications on our military and foreign affairs interests."
Judge Moon ruled against the Masts, and the baby stayed in Afghanistan. The next day, she was united with her biological family.
The "rescued" infant in Afghanistan
This story is no stranger to the American ways, and this is not the first time the US army is accused of being involved in the reckless handling of Afghan children.
Amid the chaos of the US evacuation from Afghanistan, an infant boy was handed in desperation to a US soldier across an airport wall. He was found and reunited with his relatives in Kabul in January.
Everybody thought the baby made it to the so-called "Land of Liberty" and was living the stable life he would have never had back in his homeland, Afghanistan.
The New York Times, at the time, posted a picture of the baby "being lifted above surging crowds into the arms of US soldiers on blast walls. It was not clear if the parents had made it to safety," insinuating that the infant actually had.
It turned out that the same arms of the US soldier who lifted the infant above surging crowds left him stranded at the airport, only to be found by an Afghan who took him in.