on the case in which he stands accused of trying to arrange the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Arbabsiar spoke only two words in court. Asked how he pleaded, he said, “Not guilty.” He was not handcuffed before, during or after the hearing.
US prosecutors have said Arbabsiar had told them all about the plot after his arrest and freely provided numerous details. But his lawyer said days earlier that he would plead innocent. That is the normal procedure. By pleading innocent, Arbabsiar and his lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, have some maneuvering room to try to minimize the charges. Prosecutors said Arbabsiar could face life in prison if convicted on all the charges, including terrorism.
In national security cases like this one, the US government sometimes cannot present evidence in court that was obtained through intelligence methods. If that is true in this case, Arbabsiar may be able to avoid conviction on some charges. If not, he can always change his plea later and argue that he was cooperative and therefore should not get a stiff sentence.
Those facts did not stop the Islamic Republic from pounding its propaganda drums over his plea. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the state news agency, said Arbabsiar went to court and “rejected baseless accusations” against him while “facing White House officials with thousands of tough questions.”
IRNA said Arbabsiar’s not guilty plea “marks the formation of another great disgrace for US political and security officials, proving once again that their baseless accusations had been coined quite naively.”
Arbabsiar’s next court appearance will be December 21. US District Court Judge John F. Keenan said that should give the prosecution time to turn over its evidence to Shroff and for Shroff to prepare an anticipated complaint that the government failed to give Arbabsiar adequate notice (Miranda warning) of his legal right to remain silent before questioning him. Asked by Judge Keenan if she planned such a challenge, Shroff said, “Most certainly, your honor.”
The judge said the trial would likely start in January and last three to four weeks.
Meanwhile, in Tehran officials continued to complain almost daily that the United States is not allowing “consular access,” the formal term for diplomats being able to visit nationals of their country who have been arrested in another country.
The US State Department announced just days after Arbabsiar’s arrest that Iranian diplomats could have consular access, but Iran keeps saying they have not been permitted to see him.
Last Thursday, the State Department issued a formal statement telling Iran to stop the propaganda and start following proper procedures. “We understand that Iran has made their request [for consular access] public,” the statement said. “Such requests are normally handled through diplomatic channels.
“The State Department would communicate any request for consular access in this case to the Department of Justice and coordinate to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken. The specific modalities for any such visit would be arranged by the Department of Justice. The United States takes its consular notification and access obligations very seriously,” the statement concluded.