Following the announcement that President Bush will nominate General Michael Hayden to be the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the American Civil Liberties Union is urging the Senate to vigorously question the nominee on his involvement with the warrantless programme to spy on Americans, including gay groups.

Mr Hayden was the director of the National Security Agency when the programme was launched in 2001 and has been one the chief defenders of these actions in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the ACLU claim.

Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, issued the following statement regarding the nomination: “The appointment of General Hayden is the latest example of President Bush giving promotions to those who have led the greatest attacks on our Constitution and fundamental freedoms.

“This administration continues to demonstrate a fundamental lack of respect for the rule of law and our core civil liberties and civil rights. We hope that the Senate will use this opportunity to break through the administration’s stonewalling about the illegal programme to spy on Americans without any check.

“Lawmakers and the American people have a right to know how many people have had their private conversations monitored.

“Hayden’s approval of warrantless surveillance on Americans raises serious questions about whether the CIA would be further unleashed on the American public. It was under General Hayden’s watch that the NSA started to wiretap Americans, without court or Congress’ approval, even though the FISA Court acts quickly to review requests for intelligence investigations.

“Those who oversee our nation’s intelligence agencies must have the highest respect and regard for our Constitution, not the blatant disregard that individuals like General Hayden have shown. This is also an opportunity for Senators to demand the CIA to disclose its operations that may have run afoul of the Constitution and other federal laws, the practice of extraordinary rendition, the torture and abuse of prisoners and the use of ‘black sites,’ or secret prisons operated overseas. We encourage the Senate to fully investigate this nominee.”

In January American newspapers reported Pentagon officials had been spying on what they labelled as “suspicious” meetings by civilian groups, including student groups opposed to the military’s’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gay soldiers.

It had been alleged that LGBT student groups at the State University of New York at Albany, William Patterson College and New York University Law School were all monitored as part of the domestic spy program.

The Bush administration claims that spying on American citizens is both legal and necessary for the security of the nation.

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