Secret records: Government says Marine’s adoption of Afghan orphan seen as abduction, must be undone
The US government has warned a Virginia judge that allowing an American Marine to keep an Afghan war orphan risks violating international law and could be viewed around the world as “endorsing an act of international child abduction,” according to secret court records reviewed by The Associated Press.
It is rare for the federal government to step into a local custody case, but concern about the child’s fate has stretched across the Trump and Biden administrations. The Justice Department argued in the court documents that the dispute has ramifications that extend far beyond the rural courthouse where the girl’s future is being decided.
Failing to return the child, now 4, to Afghan relatives in the US could jeopardise American efforts to resettle Afghan refugees, threaten international security pacts and might be used as propaganda by Islamic extremists — potentially endangering US soldiers overseas, Justice Department attorneys and other US officials warned in court filings seeking to intervene in the case.
The Justice Department was particularly scathing in its assessment of how Marine Major Joshua Mast and his wife convinced a Virginia judge to sign off on the adoption of the girl, who has been in their custody since 2021.
Citing a litany of “falsehoods,” the Justice Department wrote that the court relied on “intentional misrepresentations” from the Marine and skipped critical safeguards to protect children being brought to the United States.
“The grave harm that the Masts have inflicted upon the Child, her family, and the United States is ongoing,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in the court documents, which included signed declarations from State and Defense department officials. “Most troublingly, the child remains with the Masts to this day.”
The documents were filed under seal this summer in the bitter custody battle over the child who was pulled by US forces in 2019 from the rubble of a military raid.
Mast, who was on a short assignment as an attorney in Afghanistan, met the baby in a US military hospital and became determined to bring her home.
The Masts and the girl’s Afghan relatives, who are suing to get her back, have been ordered not to speak publicly about the case, and their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
But in earlier court filings, Mast’s attorneys have written that the Marine and his wife acted in good faith and worked at “great personal expense and sacrifice” to protect the baby and “provide her a loving home.”
Until now, the federal government’s role in the case has remained mostly a mystery. The government filings reviewed by the AP represent just a fraction of the thousands of pages of documents, transcripts and exhibits that remain under seal, locked away with no word of when the public will be allowed to see them.
The AP in January took legal action to unseal the case and a Virginia judge agreed to do so. Yet nine months later, the documents remain secret. It is unclear how the Masts responded to the Justice Department’s court filings.
In arguing that the girl should be returned to her Afghan relatives, the Justice Department wrote that the Masts, who were living in Fluvanna County at the time, convinced their local circuit court judge Richard E. Moore in 2019 that the child — 7,000 miles away — was the “stateless” daughter of foreign fighters from an unknown neighbouring country, and that the Afghan government intended to waive jurisdiction over her. A year later, Moore, who has since retired, made the adoption permanent.
The child, however, was never “stateless,” the Afghan government did not relinquish its claim over her, and the orders “were obtained fraudulently by the Masts, who knowingly made false representations before the Virginia courts,” the Justice Department wrote.
Virginia law requires that whoever has physical custody of a child be given an opportunity to be heard in an adoption case. But the Virginia court failed to notify the US government of Mast’s custody petition, the Justice Department argued.
At the time, the baby was in the custody of the US government, being treated at a military hospital in Kabul. The Afghan government was tracking down relatives, a State Department official wrote, and found an uncle who reported that the girl’s father, a farmer, had been slain in the raid, along with his wife and five other children.