Information Warfare: June 15, 2002

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The arrest of an American citizen for working with al Qaeda, on a plot to build and use a nuclear "dirty bomb", has raised once more the unique nature of the war on terror. The U.S. legal system did not evolve to deal with a conflict like this. So there is a struggle to control of public opinion on how the legal aspects war should be fought. What it comes down to is, how do you deal with soldiers who are not uniformed soldiers and battles that are not traditional battles? On one end, you have those who feel that al Qaeda suspects should be arrested and held indefinitely for interrogation (without the presence of a lawyer to advise the prisoner to keep his mouth shut.) On the other end, you have civil liberties zealots who believe that such prisoners should have all the constitutional rights accorded anyone in the custody of the U.S. legal system. While this might mean that suspects get released for lack of sufficient evidence to hold them, and possibly go on to kill Americans during some terrorist act, the civil libertarians consider that the price we pay for our freedoms. This view might prevail, for the American public has long tolerated the release of common criminals under similar circumstances. And these criminals have gone on to commit thousands of serious crimes. In the last few decades, the attitude towards releasing criminals (via plea bargain or parole) has hardened, and the crime rate has declined as repeat offenders are kept off the streets. The prospect of some terrorist walking free and then staging an attack producing massive casualties may sway public opinion. Then again, it may not. Over the next weeks and months, an Information War campaign will be waged by both sides to sway public opinion. Ultimately, the politicians tend to pay attention to the opinion polls.


 


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