Confidential Documents: U.S. Authorities Warn Marine’s Custody of Afghan Child May Constitute International Abduction, Call for Reversal

by Ryan Lee
Justice Department's Involvement in Afghan Child Adoption Case

The United States government has cautioned a judge in Virginia that the adoption of an Afghan war orphan by an American Marine could contravene international law and may be globally perceived as a tacit endorsement of “international child abduction.” This revelation comes from confidential court documents examined by The Big Big News.

The federal government’s unusual involvement in a local child custody issue has spanned both the Trump and Biden administrations, driven by apprehensions over the child’s well-being. Legal representatives from the Justice Department assert that the implications of this matter transcend the confines of the rural judicial setting where decisions regarding the girl’s future are being made.

U.S. officials, including attorneys from the Justice Department, have submitted court documents warning that such a custody arrangement might imperil U.S. military personnel deployed overseas.

In a stark critique, the Justice Department lambasted Marine Maj. Joshua Mast and his spouse for persuading a Virginia judge to approve the girl’s adoption, who has been under their care since 2021.

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The court’s decision, according to the Justice Department, was based on a series of “intentional misrepresentations” made by Mast and bypassed crucial measures designed to ensure the welfare of children brought to the United States.

Justice Department attorneys wrote in sealed legal filings, which include signed declarations from the State and Defense Departments, that the “continuing serious harm inflicted upon the child, her biological family, and the United States is of grave concern.”

The documents, filed confidentially last summer, detail the contentious custody battle over a child who was rescued by U.S. forces in 2019 amid the ruins following a military operation.

While serving a brief assignment as a legal officer in Afghanistan, Mast encountered the infant in a U.S. military hospital and became committed to bringing her to the United States. Due to a court-imposed gag order, neither the Masts nor the girl’s Afghan relatives, who are suing for her return, are permitted to discuss the case publicly. Their legal representatives also declined to comment.

Yet earlier court documents reveal that attorneys for Mast argue that he and his wife acted with noble intentions, incurring “significant personal cost and sacrifice” to offer the child a secure and loving home.

Until this point, the federal government’s role in the matter has remained largely undisclosed. Just a fraction of the voluminous sealed records, transcripts, and exhibits has been reviewed by the Associated Press. Legal efforts by the AP to unseal the case succeeded, but many documents remain under wraps, with no indication of when they will be made public.

The Justice Department argues for the child’s return to her Afghan family, contending that Mast and his spouse misled the Virginia court into believing that the child was “stateless” and that the Afghan government intended to relinquish jurisdiction over her. Virginia law stipulates that any party with physical custody of a child should have the opportunity to be heard in adoption proceedings. However, the court failed to inform the U.S. government, which had custody of the child at the time, according to the Justice Department.

Details now reveal that concern over Mast’s conduct reached the highest echelons of U.S. governance. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a cable to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, characterizing the custody order as flawed and questioning U.S. jurisdiction over an Afghan minor.

The situation complicates the United States’ international standing, especially with Afghanistan, where U.S. withdrawal has left a volatile environment. A State Department official wrote in a declaration that the prevailing perception—that Afghan children can be separated from their families in the U.S. against their will—adversely affects U.S. foreign policy.

The Biden administration argues that ongoing delays and the harmful narrative that a U.S. servicemember “abducted a Muslim child” are damaging America’s reputation internationally, thus undermining U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Justice Department’s Involvement in Afghan Child Adoption Case

What is the primary concern of the U.S. Justice Department regarding the Marine’s adoption of an Afghan orphan?

The U.S. Justice Department warns that the adoption could be considered an act of international child abduction and could violate international law. They argue that it could also have broad implications, potentially endangering U.S. military personnel overseas and affecting the country’s foreign policy.

How did Marine Maj. Joshua Mast and his wife come to adopt the Afghan girl?

Mast, who was on a short assignment as an attorney in Afghanistan, met the baby in a U.S. military hospital. He and his wife convinced a Virginia judge to sign off on the adoption in 2019. The girl has been in their custody since 2021.

What were the irregularities highlighted by the Justice Department in the adoption process?

The Justice Department accused the couple of relying on “intentional misrepresentations” to secure the adoption. They claimed that critical safeguards were skipped, such as notifying the U.S. government about the custody petition when the child was already in the care of U.S. military medical facilities in Afghanistan.

Have the Afghan relatives of the child responded to the case?

The Afghan relatives are suing to get the child back. However, they have been ordered not to speak publicly about the case. Their lawyers also did not respond to requests for comment.

Why did the U.S. federal government get involved in what seems like a local custody issue?

Though it is rare for the federal government to intervene in local custody cases, the Justice Department argues that this particular case has far-reaching implications, extending beyond a local Virginia courthouse to impact U.S. soldiers abroad and the country’s standing on the international stage.

What is the current custody situation of the child?

The Virginia judge voided the adoption in March but left the child with the Masts, citing a custody order. This decision has been appealed by the Masts.

How is this case affecting U.S. foreign policy, particularly with respect to Afghanistan?

The Biden administration has argued that ongoing delays and the perception that a U.S. servicemember abducted a Muslim child could harm America’s standing globally, particularly in Afghanistan where the U.S. withdrawal has left a fragile nation behind.

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Emily Brown September 15, 2023 - 9:29 am

Did the Marine act in bad faith or is this a series of unfortunate events? Either way, this has created an international incident that no one needed.

Mike Daniels September 15, 2023 - 6:28 pm

I’ve always felt adoption should be a beautiful thing, but this case? It’s a mess, an international mess at that. What were they thinking?

John Smith September 15, 2023 - 8:14 pm

Wow, this is some heavy stuff. The implications are massive – not just for this Marine and his family but for U.S. foreign policy as well. kinda makes you wonder how deep this goes.

Sara Williams September 16, 2023 - 12:10 am

Honestly, this case is so complicated. Feels like everyone messed up somewhere along the line. The Marine, the courts, even the government agencies aren’t on the same page.

Peter Johnson September 16, 2023 - 7:16 am

The fact that the Justice Dept had to get involved says a lot. This isn’t just a family matter anymore. It’s become something far bigger and more dangerous.


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