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Rights groups seek declassification of counterterrorism documents



by Joseph Earnest November 1, 2013


Newscast Media WASHINGTON—The official legal rationales for US drone strikes and NSA surveillance programs remain classified. A growing number of advocacy groups are calling on the White House to come clean about its counterterrorism programs.

US drone strikes in Pakistan have killed at least 400 civilians, according to NGO and Pakistani government sources cited by Amnesty International. Meanwhile, National Security Agency surveillance programs have collected thousands of communications from American citizens, in violation of the US Constitution's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

Despite the growing evidence of widespread collateral damage from Washington's counterterrorism programs, the authoritative legal rationales for drone strikes and the NSA's collection of metadata remain classified. Last week, 45 national security and transparency organizations signed a letter, published by OpenTheGovernment.org, calling on US President Barack Obama to make secret interpretations of US law available to the public.

"We're not asking for the classified details of operations, we understand the need to keep those secret when there are people to be protected or sources and methods," Patrice McDermott, the executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, told Deutsche Welle.

But McDermott said the public needs "to understand how the law is being expanded and interpreted in secret opinions and secret memos."

Although public pressure on the US government is mounting, particularly in the aftermath of the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, transparency advocates still face an uphill battle in the US judicial system.

"The White House has been very successful at convincing courts that it has the authority to basically keep all components of its counterterrorism program classified," Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel with Human Rights Watch (HRW), told DW.

According to legal expert Mark Rumold, "the courts are weary about intruding" on national security, because it "has been particularly delegated to the executive branch through the Constitution."

"Courts have maybe given too much leeway to the executive branch to do what they will in the national security context and there's a growing momentum to kind of reign in what the executive has done," said Rumold, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a transparency advocacy group based in San Francisco.

In response to public pressure, the Obama administration has also released a summary of its overall legal interpretation of the NSA surveillance programs. But according to Rumold, a summary does not go far enough.

"We need to have access to the branch of government that says what the law is, and that's in this instance the courts," Rumold said. "If the public wants to have meaningful debate about how to amend the law to prevent this, or if the public decides…this something that we want, the public needs to be able to know how to ratify the decision."    Add Comments>>

Source: Deutsche Welle










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