Definition of "State Terrorism"

According to Spanish judge Ernesto Garzón, "State terrorism is a political system whose rule of recognition permits and/or imposes a clandestine, unpredictable, and diffuse application, even regarding clearly innocent people, of coercive means prohibited by the proclaimed judicial ordinance. State terrorism obstructs or annuls judicial activity and transforms the government into an active agent in the struggle for power."

For Garzón, the definition of State terrorism is completed and explained by making reference to its most important functional elements, as seen from an institutional viewpoint. State terrorism requires:

  1. A certain ideological organization based on dogma; an idea held as absolute, unquestionable, and which serves to excuse or justify the destruction of all that opposes it. Such was the role of the so-called "National Security Doctrine."
  2. An effective body of propaganda which justifies and argues in favor of the means applied and counteracts and stigmatizes contrary positions.
  3. The internal discipline of ideological organizations: elimination of the self-critical capacity of members of the organization whose function was to apply coercive means through certain mechanisms of "internal discipline."

According to Ernesto Garzón, the following are cited as arguments used to excuse or justify the application of means justifiably definitive of State terrorism:

  1. The argument of effectiveness. The imposition of "state terror" is the most effective form to combat urban and/or rural terrorism.
  2. The argument of the impossibility of identifying the "terrorist," which demands the application of diffuse, wide-ranging measures of coercion.
  3. The argument of the symmetry of conflict. The State’s proper response to "indiscriminant terrorism" is the reinforcement of the monopoly of state violence, exercised through means equal to those used by the "urban and/or rural terrorist."
  4. The argument of the distinction between public and private ethics. In the political field, in contrast to what occurs in the sphere of private actions, the decisive point to judge the behavior of those in power is the end result reached. If the result achieved through the means of State terrorism is peace, then the necessary foundation for a genuine "democratic society" has been obtained.
  5. The argument of the inevitability of secondary negative consequences. The aim sought with the use of diffuse and clandestine measures of repression is peace and security. As a secondary effect, this implies that the destruction of human lives is perfectly justifiable as long as is taken into account the "theory of double effect," sustained by scholars.
  6. The argument of tragic choices. "Urban and/or rural terrorism" puts the State in a situation which could be classified as tragic: if terrorism is not responded to effectively, the very existence of the State is put in danger; additionally, an effective response demands the application of means at the margins of legality.
  7. The argument of the primacy of absolute values. Certain socio-political precepts exist that have absolute, unconditional validity. Their realization is a necessary condition for the happiness and well-being of a society. Those who oppose them are viewed as irreconcilable enemies of social order and, therefore, their elimination is justified.

Finally, Ernesto Garzón indicates:

The military regimes that apply these arguments — particularly in Latin America — tend to justify them as transitory, as a cruel but necessary period that anticipates a return to the "Constitution and the Democracy."

Ernesto Garzón analyzes the "concept of State terrorism" from the point of view of its ethical and de facto legitimacy. He defines the concept of State terrorism as an execution of state power characterized by: