Current Issue

Volume 82, Number 2

May 2007

Counterterrorism and Checks and Balances: The Spanish and American Examples

Ari D. MacKinnon

Although the United States’ so-called “War on Terror” has entailed significant military action, it has also involved the augmentation of the executive’s law enforcement powers. The result has been the emergence of a distinct “counterterrorism” model of coercive government action, falling between the traditional models of war and criminal law enforcement. This Note seeks to place the U.S. counterterrorism model within a larger international context by comparing it with that of another Western democracy, Spain. The author contends that the U.S. model evinces less respect for customary checks and balances than does the Spanish. Nonetheless, the author questions whether the Spanish model’s greater relative commitment to checks and balances has in practice prevented government overreaching. The author concludes that both the Spanish executive and Parliament have overstepped the bounds of their constitutionally prescribed counterterrorism competences, despite the existence of checks and balances. In addition to suggesting that these excesses may be partially attributed to the institutional heritage of Francoist Spain, the author surmises that government overreaching may be endemic in any regime, such as the Spanish, that transparently vests special counterterrorism competences in the executive and legislative branches.