An interesting custody battle is taking place. I am going to summarize. You can read a more detailed account at this ABC News LINK>Baby orphaned in military raid now at center of custody battle with her relatives and Marine.
In September 2019, a weeks-old baby girl was found badly hurt but — miraculously — alive in the rubble of a raid by U.S. special operations forces. Both of her parents were killed in the operation and she was placed under the temporary medical care of the U.S. military to recover from burns and physical trauma. The military had targeted a home in central Afghanistan, looking to capture or kill suspected foreign fighters associated with al-Qaida.
Today, the 3-1/2 year old girl (known as Baby Doe) is claimed by two families who are fighting a complex legal battle over the right to raise her. On one side are her paternal uncle and cousins in Afghanistan, with whom she was placed by the Afghan government in early 2020. Her uncle’s son and his wife, referred to in court as John and Jane Doe, cared for her for 18 months. Baby Doe and her Afghan family fled the Taliban and came to the US. John and Jane Doe have now resettled in Texas.
On the other side is a U.S. Marine lawyer who was in Afghanistan at the time of the raid and who successfully petitioned a local Virginia court to grant him an adoption order. An attorney for the Marine, Maj Joshua Mast, has contended in court filings that the girl had no surviving biological relatives (which the U.S. government says isn’t true). Mast’s attorney described her as an “orphan of war and a victim of terrorism” and Mast used the adoption order in Virginia to take custody of Baby Doe in September 2021. Baby Doe currently lives in North Carolina with Mast, his wife and their children. In September, John and Jane Doe filed a federal lawsuit suit against the Masts, claiming that the Masts unlawfully took Baby Doe.
The case is being reviewed in both Virginia and federal courts. Also involved are the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, who say the child should be returned to her Afghan relatives.
Following Afghan cultural traditions, Baby Doe should have then been taken to her next closest relatives. But who was she? Who were those relatives? Was she even Afghan? The US worked with the Afghan administration of then-President Ashraf Ghani and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to locate Afghan relatives who could raise her as their own, in line with local customs.
Mast was serving in Afghanistan at the time, as an attorney for the government’s Center for Law and Military Operations. In that role, he was involved in discussions about what to do with Baby Doe and took a keen interest in her welfare. He advocated for her transfer to the United States, so she could be placed for adoption far away from the dangers of “a country known for child abuse, neglect and sexual trafficking of children,” as an attorney for Mast once wrote. Mast’s court filings have also stated that Baby Doe’s parents were likely combatants, not collateral damage from the 2019 military raid. In late 2019, when Mast and his wife, Stephanie, sought an adoption order, they claimed Baby Doe was stateless and needed continuous medical care. John and Jane Doe claim that Mast abducted Baby Doe days after he had helped them arrive in the US in August 2021, as part of the chaotic US evacuation from Afghanistan.
The Justice Department filed a motion that argued the case should be moved to a federal court. The motion also stated that the Masts’ adoption should not have been granted, citing a U.S. government decision that Baby Doe should be returned to her Afghan family. The State Department likewise said in a recent statement to ABC News that the baby should have been brought back to her relatives. “Reuniting the child with the family members in Afghanistan was the right thing to do,” a department spokesperson said.
“We need a full investigation on this case and how this child could have been adopted away from her relatives,” Lisa Lawrence, a Defense Department spokesperson, said. “The investigation could lead to loopholes that need to be closed within our system. There shouldn’t be anyone from any rank of military that can push something as significant as an adoption through without following proper protocol and procedures.”