Barbara Olshansky graduated from Stanford Law School in 1985. She clerked for two years for California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird. In 2001, Olshansky joined the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) where she created and directed the advocacy project on behalf of Guantanamo detainees. Olshansky participated in the successful litigation of the Rasul v. Bush case, establishing statutory habeas rights for the detainees.
While at CCR, Olshansky also co-founded and served as litigation director for the International Justice Network, an international humanitarian law NGO in Afghanistan. In 2007, Olshansky left CCR for Stanford Law School. At Stanford, she created an International Human Rights Clinic in Namibia and Afghanistan. From 2009-2012, Olshansky taught an International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law, focusing on health and human rights issues in Namibia, China, and Mexico.
Olshansky published the books Secret Trials and Executions: Military Tribunals and the Threat to Democracy in 2002 and Democracy Detained: Secret Unconstitutional Practices in the U.S. War on Terror in 2007. Olshansky is currently a consultant for the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at John Hopkins School of Public Health.