#minorsextrafficking | Jaw-dropping report details how a U.S. Marine abused his position to abduct an Afghan child


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The extreme nature of Mast’s abuse of his position as a military lawyer and his obsession with this child with whom he had no relationship are frightening. Mast repeatedly lobbied Trump administration officials, all the way up to Mike Pence and Mick Mulvaney, at the time the White House chief of staff. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan resisted Mast’s pressure. Representatives of the Afghan government told Mast that adoption would be absolutely impossible.

The American concept of adoption doesn’t even exist in Afghanistan,” the AP reports. “Under Islamic law, a child’s bloodline cannot be severed and their heritage is sacred. Instead of adoption, a guardianship system called kafala allows Muslims to take in orphans and raise them as family, without relinquishing the child’s name or bloodline.” Because of this, the only way Americans can adopt children from Afghanistan is if they are Muslims of Afghan descent, and according to the State Department, that has happened just 14 times in the past 10 years.

At no point was there any reason to believe the government of Afghanistan would waive jurisdiction over the child or allow her to be adopted by an American, yet Mast persisted and persisted. He told U.S. courts that the Afghan government would waive jurisdiction, repeatedly getting court action and having legal documents created for her on the basis of this lie. He lied to the U.S. Embassy, telling diplomats that he was getting legal custody of the child (according to a Virginia court but not the government of her country) just in case, with no intention of trying to push through the adoption he had been told was impossible—even as he was moving ahead in the U.S. to adopt her, a child over which the U.S. government had no custody or responsibility.

Mast created a lurid fantasy in which the child’s parents were stateless terrorists and therefore the government of Afghanistan did not have jurisdiction, and, the AP reports, “speculated that if reunited with her family, she could be made a child soldier or a suicide bomber, sold into sex trafficking, hit in a U.S. military strike, or stoned for being a girl.”

In fact, the cousins who took her in as their own child were a man who ran a coed school and a woman who was a high school graduate fluent in three languages, and they had married for love. They were her family, her legal guardians according to her country, and her loving parents, which is what matters, but they were also the exact opposite of Mast’s fantasies in which he was rescuing a child from a terrible fate. And after he got them into the United States, he took her, and more than a year later, he still has her, despite the absolutely clear record of his abuses of the law to get her.

This is all dramatically evil (and Mast looks the part, too), but it’s evil within a context. Mast’s obsession with adopting this child fits perfectly into the evangelical Christian model of international adoption. Mast is a graduate of Liberty University who, in his emails to officials looking for help getting custody of the child, signed off, “Live for an Audience of one, for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Quite a slogan for a kidnapping effort.) Since seizing the child, he and his family have appeared at at least one church service to tell their story. Mast didn’t just happen to fall in love with a baby in a military hospital and let his emotions run away with him. His pursuit of the child is entirely in line with an evangelical culture that has repeatedly framed international adoptions as a form of missionary work—“missions under our very own roof,” as one evangelical magazine put it.

Kathryn Joyce reported in depth on this evangelical advocacy for international adoption in Mother Jones in 2013, and it is no stretch to say that many evangelicals see adoption as a way of “rescuing” children from non-Christian environments and expanding their own religious community. “When we welcome a child into our heart and into our home,” the publisher of the same evangelical magazine wrote, “we actually welcome Jesus Himself.”

“The ultimate purpose of human adoption by Christians,” the author of the 2011 book Reclaiming Adoption wrote, “is not to give orphans parents, as important as that is. It is to place them in a Christian home that they might be positioned to receive the gospel.”

Many such adoptions have been disastrous, though, as families are confronted with reality after having adopted children—in many cases several at a time—from often unstable and impoverished circumstances, and out of a religious fervor rather than a considered decision to expand their families, or full knowledge of what challenges the children might face, Joyce reported. In some cases, the children were not orphans at all, but were put up for adoption by shady agencies looking to get American adoption fees. 

Stories abound of adopted children being rejected by the families that made such a big deal over the Christian act of adopting them to begin with. These families send their adopted children to other households, or back to their countries of origin without support. In a few cases, children have been killed by their adoptive families’ appallingly abusive practices, practices often founded on the writings of evangelical authors, while other children have survived serious abuse.

This is the religious context in which Joshua Mast so obsessively pursued the “adoption” of the little Afghan girl. He was acting specifically as a Christian in a Christian context that valorizes international adoption as mission. 

Ultimately it is on the United States government to make this right, to the extent that it could ever be made right after the trauma this child and her cousins and true legal guardians have suffered. The Afghan couple are seeking to have the adoption reversed, but that process is not moving quickly, even though the Masts’ adoption of the child was based on documented lies. Mast remains an active-duty Marine officer despite his abuse of his position to defy the government of Afghanistan and his lies to the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. courts. He should not just lose this child: He should be sanctioned by the Marines. He should be charged with kidnapping. He should face a civil judgment for everything he’s worth. And if there is no God or Jesus Christ to judge him, he should face the judgment and contempt of the world, because truly this is evil. But instead, he will continue to exist in a religious community that tells him that this is something to celebrate.

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