A U.S. Senate panel has approved the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general, and sent it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.  Democrats opposed the nomination, saying Judge Gonzales played a key role in shaping a policy, which they say led to the torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a party line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales to be the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah spoke for the 10 Republicans who voted in favor of the nominee.

?He is a man of integrity, decency, honor,? said Mr. Hatch.

But all eight Democrats on the committee voted against the nomination, citing the key role Judge Gonzales played in drafting detention policies in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.  They say the policies resulted in the abuse of detainees captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the panel, has been one of the most vocal critics of Judge Gonzales:

?He has championed policies that are in fundamental conflict with decades of our laws, sound military practice of international law, and human rights,? said Mr. Leahy.

Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, says those policies have had far-reaching consequences.

?We are being asked to confirm the administration's chief architect of its legal policies in the war on terror, policies with questionable legal support that have proven harmful to the conduct of the war, and injured our reputation abroad,? said Mr. Kohl.

But committee chairman Senator Alan Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, says the nominee never endorsed torture.

?Judge Gonzales has denounced torture,? he said.

Judge Gonzales did reject torture during his confirmation hearings, and vowed that if confirmed as attorney general, he would abide by international treaties on the treatment of prisoners.

But at the same time, he was vague in defining exactly what constitutes torture, and he defended memos he wrote for President Bush, which formed the basis of a policy that said that foreign fighters captured in Afghanistan did not enjoy prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions.

Despite the criticism from Democrats, Judge Gonzales is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-led Senate as early as next week.  He would succeed John Ashcroft, becoming the first Hispanic U.S. attorney general.