West News Wire: A U.S. Marine and his wife are being sued by an Afghan couple who fled to the United States as refugees for allegedly kidnapping their infant daughter.
Two years ago, the infant was rescued from the wreckage after a combined raid by U.S. Special Forces killed her parents and five siblings. She had moved in with a newlywed Afghan couple who had been confirmed as her relatives by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Afghan officials after receiving months of treatment in an American military hospital in Afghanistan.
However, according to court documents, an American Marine Corps attorney on a brief assignment in Afghanistan discovered the baby while she was still in the hospital, without the knowledge of the couple. His wife had returned to his Virginia home, he felt compelled to adopt the Afghan baby and praised it as an act of Christian faith.
This little girl, now three and a half years old, finds herself at the center of a high-stakes tangle of at least four court cases. The ordeal has drawn in the U.S. departments of Defense, Justice and State, which have previously argued that the attempt to spirit away a citizen of another country could significantly harm military and foreign relations. The U.S. Marines and federal officials did not comment on the record.
The Afghan family has asked the court to shield their identity out of concerns for their family back in Afghanistan, and they agreed to communicate with the reporters on condition of anonymity.
While authorities were looking for her Afghan relatives, attorney Joshua Mast, represented by his brother Richard Mast, told a Virginia state circuit court judge that the baby was a “stateless war orphan,” records show: They assured the judge that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani himself was planning to sign a waiver of jurisdiction within days. The state judge agreed, and granted Joshua and his wife Stephanie Mast custody, naming them as guardians on a birth certificate.
That waiver never arrived, and Ghani’s aide told news reporters earlier this month that there was no record of any discussion about this. Further, he said such a request would have to go through the courts, which did not happen. Finally, Islamic law prohibits non-Muslims from adopting Afghan babies.
Nonetheless, with documents naming them as her guardians, the Masts turned to a federal judge in Virginia to stop the U.S. government from handing over the baby, court records show. Justice Department attorneys stepped in and said the state adoption was “invalid.” The judge refused to intervene and the baby was given to her relatives.
The Afghan couple who say they had no idea what had been happening in U.S. courts wept with joy when they met the 7-month-old baby.
“We didn’t think she would come back to her family alive,” said the young Afghan man. “It was the best day of our lives.”
Over the next two years, the Afghan couple say, they settled in as a family and raised the baby in the Muslim faith. The woman, who speaks three languages including English, was continuing her studies. The man was working in a medical office. They remember those early years fondly.
“She loved showing off her new clothes, and loved getting henna on her hands every week. Whenever I did makeup or brushed my hair, she wanted to do it for me,” said the woman.
Though the baby remained in Afghanistan, Joshua and Stephanie Mast had given the growing toddler a Western name in a U.S. state court, according to court records. They finalised the adoption, enrolled her in the Defense Department’s health care system, and even scheduled an appointment with a pediatrician.
Mast through an interlocutor kept in touch with the Afghan couple, offering to bring their child to the U.S. for medical care, court records say. But the couple say they told Mast that journey was too arduous.
Everything changed last summer when the U.S. began its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Amid erupting violence and instability, Mast offered to get the couple, and their little girl, evacuated to the U.S., records show. They took him up on his offer.
When the exhausted Afghans arrived at the airport in Washington D.C., they allege in court filings that Mast pulled them out of the international arrivals line and led them to an inspecting officer. They were surprised when Mast presented an Afghan passport for the child, the couple said. But it was the last name printed on the document that stopped them cold: Mast.
They didn’t know it, but they would soon lose their baby. Just a few days later as the Afghan couple began their resettlement process at Fort Pickett Army National Guard base, they allege Mast confronted them, took the little girl then two and a half years old and drove off.
In court records, the Masts maintain that they are her legal parents and that they “behaved admirably” to keep her safe. In their request for the action to be dismissed, they assert that the Afghan couple are “not her lawful parents.” Mast’s lawyer questioned if the Afghans had any familial ties to the child.
The pair from Afghanistan is persistent.
Our weeping haven’t stopped since they kidnapped her, the woman told news reporters. “We are merely skeletal remains at this point. Our souls are torn apart. We don’t have any plans for life once she leaves. Sleep provides us no relaxation, and food has no flavor.”