WASHINGTON — Several veterans groups on Wednesday joined the chorus of opposition to President Bush’s nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, calling his legal opinions on torture a threat to U.S. forces worldwide.

On Tuesday, 12 retired admirals and generals — including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili — sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging them to closely examine Gonzales’ position on torture before they approve him.

Veterans for Common Sense, which represents about 12,000 former military personnel, and other related groups took their criticism of Gonzales even further by asking senators to oppose his nomination.

“Not only does his position (on torture) violate the laws of the United States, but it has also endangered our U.S. servicemen,” said retired Air Force Col. Richard Klass, president of the Veterans Institute for Security and Democracy.

“Judge Gonzales has opened the way for any tin-horned dictator or corrupt head of state to do the same to our troops.”

Critics attacked the White House counsel not only for his January 2002 memo calling the Geneva Convention “obsolete” and “quaint” but also for what they call failings in his judicial review of death penalty cases while an adviser to Bush while the president was governor of Texas.

“We are not just opposed to torture because it is counterproductive; it is just plain wrong,” said Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst. “It is the rule of law that distinguishes us from the animals, who can’t tell right from wrong. This is not just an academic exercise.”

The groups submitted their own letter to the Senate, signed by nearly 3,600 veterans, asking that the controversies surrounding the torture memos be the focus of their confirmation hearings.

Those hearings for Gonzales are scheduled to begin Thursday.

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