WASHINGTON -- Retired military officers, religious leaders, and liberal interest groups said yesterday that attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales should explain his views on torture and his role in crafting Bush administration policy on questioning terror suspects before the Senate votes on his confirmation.
People for the American Way and Moveon.org announced their opposition to Gonzales's confirmation, but most organizations said they want to hear from Gonzales at tomorrow's Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing before deciding whether to support him.
More than 225 clergy calling themselves Church Folks for a Better America signed a letter to Gonzales calling on him to ''denounce the use of torture under any circumstances."
Some critics have said memos that Gonzales wrote or reviewed as White House counsel set up the legal framework that led to the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at the US prison camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A dozen retired generals and admirals, including Army General John M. Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, said they had ''deep concern" about the nomination.
They urged senators to question Gonzales aggressively about whether he believes that torture may be used in some instances and whether antitorture laws and treaties like the Geneva Conventions apply to anyone captured by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
''The full extent of Mr. Gonzales's role in endorsing the use of torture remains unclear," retired Marine Corps General Joseph Hoar said at a news conference organized by the group Human Rights First.
In 2002 the Justice Department asserted that President Bush's wartime powers superseded those antitorture laws and treaties. Gonzales wrote a memo to 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."
The New York Times reported today that Gonzales intervened directly with Justice Department lawyers in 2002 to obtain a legal ruling on the extent of the president's authority to permit extreme interrogation practices in the name of national security, current and former administration officials said.
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 other international and US laws prohibiting torture.
The Justice memos have since been disavowed, and the White House says the United States has always operated under the spirit of the Geneva Conventions.
Gonzales's supporters said the criticism was partisan. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said the retired officers included some who worked on Senator John F. Kerry's campaign.
The controversy is not expected to stop the Senate from confirming Gonzales as the first Hispanic attorney general.