Monday, October 24, 2022

Lessons from some extraordinary investigative journalism by The Associated Press

During the final days of the Vietnam War, Americans grabbed hundreds of
Vietnamese "orphans" and flew them out of their country for adoption in the 
United States.  But many of them were not orphans.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press published an amazing piece of investigative reporting.  The headline is simple:  “Afghan couple accuse US Marine of abducting their baby” – and in some ways, the story is that simple.  But the telling is complex, and reporters Juliet Linderman, Clarie Galofaro and Martha Mendoza do it exceptionally well. 

Here’s how the story begins: 

The young Afghan couple raced to the airport in Kabul, clutching their baby girl close amid the chaotic withdrawal of American troops last year. 

The baby had been rescued two years earlier from the rubble of a U.S. military raid that killed her parents and five siblings. After months in a U.S. military hospital, she had gone to live with her cousin and his wife, this newlywed couple. Now, the family was bound for the United States for further medical treatment, with the aid of U.S. Marine Corps attorney Joshua Mast. 

When the exhausted Afghans arrived at the airport in Washington, D.C., in late August 2021, Mast pulled them out of the international arrivals line and led them to an inspecting officer, according to a lawsuit they filed last month. 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. 

This is a story about how one U.S. Marine became fiercely determined to bring home an Afghan war orphan, and praised it as an act of Christian faith to save her. Letters, emails and documents submitted in federal filings show that he used his status in the U.S. Armed Forces, appealed to high-ranking Trump administration officials and turned to small-town courts to adopt the baby, unbeknownst to the Afghan couple raising her 7,000 miles away. 

It's also a story about a few other things: 

● A colleague of the reporters who broke this story called it “unbelievable.”  But it’s anything but.  It’s in a long, ugly American tradition that dates at least to 1852 when Charles Loring Brace, a Protestant minister who feared and loathed Catholic immigrants whom he deemed genetically inferior, started loading their children onto so-called “orphan trains” and shipping them into what amounted to indentured servitude in the south and Midwest.  The name notwithstanding, many of the children were not orphans. 

In 1975, during another time of hasty retreat, Americans grabbed hundreds of Vietnamese babies and loaded them onto what amounted to orphan trains with wings. The babies were flown to America (except for one plane which crashed, killing hundreds) where they were adopted by U.S. couples.  But again, many were not orphans. 

● Much of the current litigation is taking place in a small town court in Virginia – in proceedings so secret the court clerk will neither confirm nor deny that they exist.  Read to the end and see why this story once again illustrates why every state should join those that already open these proceedings to press and public.  While this particular case does not involve foster care, it’s an indication of how prevalent open courts really are that at least 40% of foster children live in states where court hearings are open – and none of the fears of opponents has come to pass.  There’s more about open courts in NCCPR’s Due Process Agenda. 

● Shall we take bets on how long it takes before the Marine in question and his lawyers try to play the bonding card?  You know, the argument that goes: It doesn’t matter how we got her, we’ve had her for a year so we’re bonded!  You’re not going to take her away now, are you?  

When I wrote about this for Youth Today, I concluded with a hypothetical question: “If I kidnap your child when he’s a toddler, flee to Brazil, take really good care of him and come back five years later — can I keep him?”

Read the full AP story here.