My old friend Smith Hempstone, the swashbuckling and adventurous writer and blunt-talking diplomat, died the other day at age 77 in Washington. America has lost a true patriot.
I became friendly with Smith in Africa about 15 years ago when he was the US ambassador to Kenya and I was ambassador to the Seychelle Islands, 1000 miles out from Mombassa in the Indian Ocean.
I had lunch with Smith a few times at Nairobi’s legendary Muthaiga Club where we would kill a couple of bottles of South African wine gabbing at a table near a stuffed moth-eaten lion in a glass case. Smith had a short, white beard and a face like red shoe leather. He was witty and hard-drinking and, in his safari vest and khaki trousers, seemed like a character from Kenya’s past; more a white hunter chum of Denys Hatton Finch than a swallow-tailed diplomat.
Smith and I traded residences for a week in 1991 and Patricia and I stayed in the Embassy’s rambling house in Nairobi where the resident rat family chewed their way through my leather luggage as we sipped drinks on the screened veranda and ate wild game at the Carnivore Restaurant.
Smith and his wife Kitty were old Africa hands. They had been in the Congo in the strife and terror of the early 60’s when Smith was a foreign correspondent and they had shared many hair-raising adventures and witness much tragedy.
Smith was an outspoken and aggressive representative of the US. As a diplomat he was a serious critic of the corrupt, Kenya ruler Daniel arap Moi. Mr. Moi was leader of the Kenya African National Union, the only political party allowed by Kenya law. Mr. Moi was only the second ruler of Kenya since the legendary Mau Mau leader Jomo Kenyatta. (Who was secretly on the payroll of Britain’s MI 6 all those years, took over through when the British vacated the place in 1963. A friend of mine used to load US cash into the hubcaps of a Mercedes for delivery to Mr. Kenyatta.) His successor, Mr. Moi, was to human rights abuse and political and civic corruption as Ted Bundy was to the mass murder of young women –a proven and practiced expert.
Smith had arrived in Nairobi in 1989 as ambassador and very quickly got under Mr. Moi’s thin, pampered skin.
Smith began publicly advocating the demise of Mr. Moi and the end of KANU’s power and regularly denounced the Moi government’s incredible financial crookery.
On one occasion, Smith gave refuge at the embassy to a relentless and courageous Kenyan critic of the regime, an attorney named Gibson Kauria, and then spirited Kauria to London to keep him out of Mr. Moi’s clutches.
The government-controlled Kenya Times was always beating-up Smith in their news pages. Once they ran a head-line that said, “Shut Up, Mr Ambassador.”
Smith liked to taut Mr. Moi and KANU, who often race-baited Smith, by referring to himself “as the blue-eyed devil.”
There’s often a price to pay for the kinds of guts Smith displayed. I know for a fact that Mr. Moi planned to assassinate Smith and sanctioned a plot to do it. The plan was aborted in 1992 after the CIA learned about it and sent a man to inform Mr. Moi they had his number and promised retaliation if anything happened to Smith.
Smith Hempstone was an ex-Marine from an aristocratic southern family. A University of the South grad, he and his wife Kitty spent four years in Africa in the early 60’s where he was the correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. He wrote a couple of books about the Dark Continent and later wrote two novels while he was London Bureau Chief of the Washington Star, a great newspaper, now defunct. His syndicated column “Our Times” ran in about 90 newspapers around the country.
Smith leaves his wife of 52 years, Kitty Hempstone of Bethesda, Maryland and his daughter Katherine of Baltimore, always called “pumpkin” by her father.
Here’s a little news from the world of counter-terrorism that you may have missed: Fears of a large-scale ground war in the Horn of Africa are on the rise, according to diplomatic and intelligence sources in Washington and London.
Roving bands of Arab terrorists have killed hundreds of innocent civilians in seemingly coordinated strikes in Eastern Chad as ethnic warfare has crossed over from Sudan.
The leaders of Chad say Sudan is “exporting” its Darfur troubles, and in a particularly brutal and cruel way against civilians.
The New York Times reports that two Chad women were burned alive and a Chadian man has his eyes purposefully gouged out with a bayonet.
Sometimes stealing and plunder is the motive, although the victims have almost nothing materially but, said a human rights worker, “sometimes the motive is only to kill.”
Attacks are occurring deep into Chad and are the work of Arab militias led by Sudanese Arabs.
The terrorists are called the “Janjaweed” and they hunt down and kill black Africans like game animals on the veldt, using automatic weapons and truck-mounted machine guns. They rape and purposefully maim women and children.
New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, wrong so often on many public policy issues and players because of a blinding liberal partisanship, seems to have a solid handle on this terrible war and his reporting has been interesting and informative. He has recently been in Chad and has written that many Chadian men, poor and without conventional weapons, have organized defense forces in villages using bows and arrows, including poisoned arrows, and swords and spears to fight the Arab killers when they invade.
Kristof points rightly to the courage of these impoverished villagers as a contrast to “the fecklessness everywhere else”, meaning around the world, including the US, though he focuses a bit on France, the former colonial power in the area.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed in Darfur and the UN itself has done little, allowing horrific genocide to potentially destroy Chad and the Central African Republic.
Now they are talking about sending troops to Chad –a “possibility” said Kofi Annan, speaking to the press, likely between Manhattan cocktail parties and social receptions.
200,000 refugees from Darfur have fled the Western Sudan and are living in miserable camps in Chad.
Annan left at the end of last week for Addis Ababa in Ethiopia for meetings with the leaders of the African Union and diplomats from the US and other countries to discuss what to do about Darfur and the spreading war that has gone on for three years.
There are about 7,000 generally inept and often useless African Union soldiers in Darfur and the Sudanese government has strongly resisted a UN proposal to send in 20,000 troops to replace them.
So, while the UN dithers, thousands of innocent civilians die.
My friend Eliza Manningham-Buller, director-general of MI 5 in the UK, is saying that al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists have been trying to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry to use against Britain and the West. We know they have had some successes but Dame Eliza hasn’t publicly offered details.
She did say that MI 5 is currently tracking 1600 terror suspects in Great Britain and has evidence of about 30 terror plots.
Amazing how open MI5 has become. For years the name of its director-general, and even the agency’s existence, were kept secret, never published or broadcast. That changed a bit under Dame Eliza’s predecessor Stella Rimington and, although Britain’s domestic intelligence agency still conducts its affairs in secret, as it ought, it has become more publicly illuminating –surely a good thing.
Sami al Arian, the former Florida University professor –once the darling of liberal Florida academics, who claimed Mr. al Arian was being unfairly persecuted by an out-of-control Bush Justice Department, recently refused to testify before a federal grand jury looking into whether Islamic charities in Northern Virginia were funding terrorism, according to recently unsealed US federal court documents.
Al-Arian is now in federal prison, convicted last year of supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and will be deported when his prison time is up next year. He was sentenced to 57 months behind bars but will be released early because of time already served. Now he is likely to be held in contempt of court for refusing to appear before the Alexandria, Virginia grand jury, which could add more prison time to his existing sentence.
Al-Arian would not talk about what he knows about the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, which ran a jumble of charities and corporations.
He has refused before to cooperate with investigators looking into terrorism. Before his arrest al-Arian was politically active and met and was photographed with many politicians of both parties in Florida and Washington, DC who wanted to court Muslim-Americans.
An interesting new book will be out in February, written by a fellow whom I know - Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an attorney and terrorism analyst.
He works for Gerard Group Int’l, experts in counter-terroism, and consults with federal and local law enforcement.
Daveed has an interesting background.
He converted from Judaism to Islam and ended up working for a Wahabbi charity which was a funder of Al-Qaeda.
Later, he converted from Islam to Christianity. Later still, the FBI raided his charitable foundation offices.
He has written a fascinating book called “My Year inside Radical Islam” which will be out in two months.