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Plaque honoring Hayden draws fire

| Friday, Feb. 5, 2010

Support appears lukewarm for a request by about two dozen Pittsburgh residents for the city to remove a North Side street sign honoring Gen. Michael Hayden, one of the country's most decorated intelligence officers, because of his alleged ties to torturing Middle Eastern terror suspects.

Hayden's brother Harry Hayden said Thursday a petition circulated by a Duquesne University professor is "political talking points and spin."

"Basically, everything is a falsehood. My brother served his country for 40 years. Military men don't get to pick and choose which presidents they work under," he said.

Greg Barnhisel, 40, of Park Place, a tenured English professor at Duquesne, submitted the petition with 25 signatures to City Council, which scheduled a public hearing about removing the sign for 9 a.m. Feb. 22.

"General Hayden has done a great deal of service to the country, but I don't think, given his role in the Bush administration's policy of torture, the city should be honoring him with a public plaque," Barnhisel said.

Hayden, 64, a North Side native and Duquesne University graduate, could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl recognized Hayden's military career in July 2008 with the honorary street sign on the west side of Heinz Field. He could veto legislation if council passes an ordinance to remove the sign. A decision isn't expected at the hearing.

"The mayor is very impressed with the general's groundbreaking career," said Ravenstahl's spokeswoman Joanna Doven. "The mayor stands by his decision to erect the sign."

Hayden, 64, entered the Air Force in 1969. When President Bush tapped him to head the CIA in 2006, he became the first person to direct both the CIA and the National Security Agency. He served under every president since Richard Nixon, until President Obama replaced him last February with Leon Panetta.

"The honorary street sign is a modest tribute," said Harry Hayden, 48, of West View, who plans to attend the council hearing.

In February 2008, Gen. Hayden confirmed to Congress the CIA's use of waterboarding in 2003, an interrogation technique many consider torture. A February 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross said the CIA detention program in Guantanamo, Cuba, under Hayden's leadership, used solitary confinement, prolonged standing, nudity and exposure to cold to acquire information from 14 detainees.

Barnhisel said he was visiting the Carnegie Science Center with his sons when he noticed the sign designating "Gen. Michael V. Hayden Blvd."

"I have been politically active most of my life, but haven't been very vocal about it until now," said Barnhisel, a registered Democrat.

Hayden is an active alumnus at Duquesne University who spoke at the school's 2007 graduation, said university spokeswoman Bridget Fare. She said Barnhisel is "acting on his own and not representing the university on this matter."

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