Monday, April 27, 2015

          Liberty, Technology and Security Clinic Takes on Chelsea Manning Case, Seeks to Release Vital Surveillance Documents

          “The students are working on one of the most important ... legal challenges to the use of the Espionage Act since it has been created,” said journalist Alexa O’Brien.
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          Attorneys Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward (civilian counsel for Chelsea Manning) joined Trevor Timm (Exec. Dir., Freedom of the Press Foundation) and Professor Ahmed Ghappour (moderator) to discuss the expansion of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists under the Obama Administration, the threat to journalists during the Ferguson protests, the selective prosecution of individuals for government leaks, and more.

          Chelsea Manning was convicted in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after releasing the largest set of classified documents ever leaked to the public while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

          Students in Professor Ahmed Ghappour’s Liberty, Security & Technology Clinic work with outside trial counsel under faculty supervision to litigate issues related to Constitutional due process, privacy, speech, and other rights, often involving issues of first impression. They are working on two cases related to Manning. First, they are appealing her conviction, briefing the issues related to the controversial charges brought under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Ghappour is working with lead attorneys Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward to represent Chelsea Manning in court.

          The clinic is also representing Alexa O'Brien, an investigative journalist who covered the Manning trial extensively. They’re helping her to unseal a broad constellation of search warrants related to the Wikileaks investigation that she discovered while covering the Manning case.

          Professor Ghappour explained: "The Manning conviction was just a part of the investigation against Wikileaks, which is arguably the largest-scale criminal investigation of a publisher by law enforcement in U.S. history."

          Alexa O’Brien says that the students working on her case are not only assisting her immensely, but they are confronting high-level legal issues that usually more seasoned attorneys would take on. She found in her coverage of the Wikileaks investigation 12 outstanding search warrants and/or electronic communications orders that she is going to try to seek to unseal. O’Brien and her legal team are considering challenging various tenets of public access, and standing up to the government’s compelling interest to keep things sealed. “What’s exciting about the clinic is that the students are actually drafting the legal briefs that will be used in that lawsuit,” she said.

          3L Aaron Field jumped at the chance to help represent Alexa O’Brien in the clinic."I have wanted to represent journalists for a long time and I’m interested in dedicating as much of my career as I can to doing so," he said.

          3L Emily Goldberg Knox has also found the case fascinating in terms of constitutional issues. "A really important component of this case is to hold the government accountable so that the press and the public can know what they are doing to ensure that they aren’t violating our civil rights," she explained.

          But the cases aren’t just appealing to lawyers and future lawyers -- the potential here is for wide public impact, especially with regard to appealing Manning’s conviction.

          "The students are working on one of the most important, practical, real legal challenges to the use of the Espionage Act since it has been created,” said O’Brien. "This is like the Scopes trial. It’s of that kind of magnitude where you are talking about a large historical case that has deep ramifications for society."

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