NEW YORK -- A coalition of human rights and journalism groups sent a letter on Tuesday to President Barack Obama asking him to curb his administration's practice of keeping secret the legal opinions that underlie its drone strike and surveillance practices.
"While the government has an obligation to protect properly and appropriately classified information, democracy does not thrive when our national security programs and the intelligence community's actions are shrouded in secrecy," the groups wrote in the letter.
The groups hope the Obama administration will take the concrete step of instructing the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to release the legal opinions that provide the foundation for the U.S.' drone war and the NSA's surveillance operations.
Signatories to the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Since Obama promised in 2009 to make his the most transparent administration ever, he has come in for fierce criticism from journalists and human rights groups over the secrecy surrounding his national security policies. His Justice Department has strenuously fought public records requests to declassify those legal opinions.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch simultaneously released reports Tuesday on civilian casualties from U.S. drone attacks, and chided the Obama administration for its refusal to acknowledge some strikes, which has prevented victims of such attacks from receiving compensation.
"Every time anyone tries to gain access to the administration's legal reasoning, those cases are dismissed on state secrets grounds," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel and advocate for Human Rights Watch. "The Obama administration has created its own little secret bubble in which it's setting counterterrorism policy."