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Human Rights Watch's Take on Obama's Drone Speech Is Worth Reading

Did you miss the president's important speech about the War on Terror? Here's the one response you should make some time for.
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An MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer surveillance UAV. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

An MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer surveillance UAV. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

Yesterday's presidential address on the set of security policies collectively called the War on Terror contained lots of clear statements—and yet no one seems to agree on what, if anything, they meant.

Among the more detailed responses this morning was this statement from Human Rights Watch. The organization's investigators have on several occasions won access to the Guantanamo prison, and the group has one of the more consistent track records on researching the legal issues surrounding unmanned vehicles, the so-called "drone war."

In its summary, the group flags a fine, but potentially key legal point in Obama's speech:

[Obama] failed to address the meaning of “imminence” when determining whether a terrorism suspect poses an imminent threat to the U.S., or explain how it determines combatant status. He also did not discuss the widely reported practice of “signature strikes”—attacks on people whose identities are unknown but who are deemed to be combatants by virtue of behavior or other “signatures” that do not necessarily meet international law requirements. Such attacks may be unlawful.

The rest of the organization's analysis—agree or not, it's one of the more substantive so far—is here.