A dozen retired generals and admirals said Tuesday they have "deep concern" about Alberto Gonzales' nomination as attorney general because of his role in crafting Bush administration policy on questioning terror suspects.
The high-ranking officers include retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They made their views known in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Gonzales' nomination later this week.
They urged senators to question Gonzales aggressively about whether he now believes that torture may be used in some instances and whether anti-torture laws and treaties like the Geneva Conventions apply to anyone captured by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The full extent of Mr. Gonzales' role in endorsing the use of torture remains unclear," retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar said at a news conference organized by the group Human Rights First.
The Justice Department in 2002 asserted that President Bush's wartime powers superseded those laws and treaties. Gonzales, while at the White House, also wrote a memo to President Bush on Jan. 25, 2002, arguing that the war on terrorism "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."
Gonzales also received several memos on the subject, including one from then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee arguing that the president has the power to issue orders that violate the Geneva Conventions as well as international and U.S. laws prohibiting torture.
and the White House says the United States has always operated under the spirit of the Geneva Conventions that prohibit violence, torture and humiliating treatment.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. James Cullen, who was a chief judge of the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, said he opposes Gonzales' nomination because "I think he's had such an appalling departure from good judgment."
Democratic senators have signaled that they will press Gonzales on his role in shaping administration policy. They also have complained that the administration has not turned over copies of Gonzales' writings on the subject, although the White House has said it will try to satisfy Democrats' concerns.
Separately, a group of more than 225 religious leaders expressed "grave concern" over Gonzales' nomination and called on the attorney general candidate "To denounce the use of torture under any circumstances."
"We are asking Mr. Gonzales to commit to upholding the Geneva Conventions and pledge to make the U.S. a leader in human rights before he is confirmed as attorney general,'' said Dr. George Hunsinger, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Still, the issue probably won't be enough to stop Republicans from confirming.
Republicans hold 55 seats in the new Senate, while Democrats control 44 seats and there is a Democratic-leaning independent. The Democrats have not yet decided whether to try to block Gonzales' confirmation.
"I think the hearing will be contentious, but in the end Judge Gonzales will be confirmed because he deserves to be confirmed," said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who will introduce Gonzales at the confirmation hearing.