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Top spy's record of gutting civil liberties

By Elizabeth Schulte | June 2, 2006 | Pages 1 and 2

"A PATRIOT and a dedicated public servant" was how George W. Bush described Gen. Michael Hayden May 26 after he sailed into his new job as head of the CIA. With the Senate voting to confirm him by a 78-to-15 margin, the four-star general and Air Force lifer took his place as head spymaster, replacing Porter Goss, who resigned in mid-May.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) called Hayden "eminently qualified" to lead the CIA. If not being afraid to trample over civil liberties and human rights are key qualifications, Hayden is definitely the right choice.

Hayden, who is always seen in uniform, will be the first active-duty or retired military officer to run the CIA in 25 years. He headed the National Security Agency from March 1999 to April 2005.

During this time, he oversaw the agency's program of secret warrantless wiretapping on domestic calls to or from overseas, which was revealed last year by the New York Times. Hayden fiercely defends the agency's practice of spying on hundreds if not thousands of domestic telephone conversations.

In January, he showed his contempt for--and ignorance of--the U.S. constitution at an appearance at the National Press Club. Hayden repeatedly corrected--wrongly--a Knight-Ridder reporter who cited "probable cause" as the basis for issuing a warrant, as stated in the Fourth Amendment.

The general was confused about whether the government needed "probable cause" to conduct legal searches and seizures.

Evidently, adhering to laws preserving privacy rights isn't a part of Hayden's job description. But torture might be.

During Senate hearings on his nomination, Hayden dodged questions about whether "waterboarding"--a method of torture in which a prisoner believe he's drowning--is "an acceptable CIA interrogation technique." He also refused to talk about how long he thought the U.S. could hold terror suspects without a trial.

"He didn't answer any of them," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced one day as the hearing recessed for lunch. This, however, didn't stop Feinstein and 24 other Democrats from voting for Hayden's confirmation. The final margin was a lopsided 78-to-15 vote.

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