Dershowitz: Assange has a new legal adviser

Answering today’s five OFF-SET questions is Alan M. Dershowitz, who has been called “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer” and one of its “most distinguished defenders of individual rights.”

He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, he joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. His newest and third novel is “The Trials of Zion.”

EXCLUSIVE: Dershowitz is scheduled to appear on Parker Spitzer on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011.

As an adviser to Julian Assange’s defense team, what will you be doing?

I will be focusing on First and Fourth Amendment  issues, freedom of press and freedom of association and  limitations on the government’s power to intrude on these rights. I will also be interested in helping to develop the law involving the new electronic media.

Have you ever met Assange?

We have spoken on the phone extensively.

There are those who say he and WikiLeaks may have threatened national security. (Your reaction?)

The First Amendment protects even speech that may be seen as dangerous or threatening by some. I was involved in the Pentagon Papers case in which the same claims were made. It turned out that the release of the Pentagon Papers was good for America in the end. But whenever there are doubts, we ought to resolve them in favor of freedom.

There is a hearing today in Virginia, where a federal judge will decide whether or not the US Department of Justice can legally force the website Twitter to hand over private information connected to Wikileaks, and if the legal documents connected to the case should be made public. Do you think the US has the right to those tweets?

I do not. I think they have to follow the Constitution and show probable cause or at least a reasonable basis. They can’t just seek them. It endangers the associational rights of those who tweet and those who follow WikiLeaks. And there are Supreme Court decisions that go back a long time.

So, as an advisor, how will you communicate with Assange moving forward?

We have talked on the phone, and have emailed and we will meet in person in the appropriate time—I will travel to England as the situation warrants it. The issues are fascinating and important and he seems like a very multi-dimensional person. I look forward to getting to know him better and forming a judgment based on personal observations.

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