The Dangerous Rush to Judgment Against Julian Assange

What we don’t know about the U.S. prosecution of Assange is virtually everything.

By Bill Blum, a former judge and death penalty defense attorney, and cross-posted from truthdig

After years of speculation, we now know that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been accused by the Justice Department of committing crimes against the United States. We know this because an assistant U.S. attorney named Kellen S. Dwyer screwed up and inadvertently disclosed in a motion filed on Aug. 22 in an unrelated case that Assange has been secretly charged in an accusation that has been placed under seal.

The unrelated case is pending in the Eastern District of Virginia against Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, 29, who, according to The Washington Post, is linked to international terrorism and whose father in-law has been convicted of committing terrorist acts.

What we don’t know about the prosecution of Assange is virtually everything else.

For starters, we don’t know whether the charging document lodged against Assange is an indictment or simply a complaint. The difference is important because indictments are handed down by a grand jury, while complaints are generated by the Justice Department on its own initiative and are usually preliminary and superseded by subsequent indictments. If the charging document is an indictment, it would imply the department is ready to roll, and that a trial will commence as soon as Assange is arrested and extradited. (The Supreme Court has held that federal criminal trials cannot start in the defendant’s absence.)

More important, we don’t know the nature of Assange’s alleged offenses, when they allegedly were committed, or when the charges against him were filed

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