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Justice Dept. Briefed Congress on Blackwater Case Obstacles

Justice Department officials have told Congress that they face serious legal difficulties in pursuing criminal prosecutions of Blackwater security guards involved in a September shooting that left at least 17 Iraqis dead.

In a private briefing in mid-December, officials from the Justice and State Departments met with aides to the House Judiciary Committee and other congressional staff members and warned them that there were major legal obstacles that might prevent any prosecution. Justice officials were careful not to say whether any decision had been made in the matter, according to two of the congressional staff members who received the briefing.

The staff members, who asked not to be identified, disclosed details of the meeting in interviews this week.

U.N. Chief Calls for Constructive Dialogue Among Cultures

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed Tuesday for global dialogue to fight terrorism, though he conceded that there was no quick way to eliminate the Islamist terror threat.

“Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations,” he said at the start of an international conference here aimed at promoting understanding between Western and Muslim cultures.

“The threats are terrifying, but the responses are at hand,” he added during a speech to the first forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, a U.N.-backed initiative that is the brainchild of the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Zapatero proposed the alliance at the U.N. General Assembly in 2004, a few months after he was elected in the wake of an Islamist terrorist attack that killed 191 Spanish commuters in Madrid on March 11 of that year. Turkey also sponsored the project, which more than 80 countries support.

Supreme Court Limits Lawsuits by Shareholders

Ruling in its most important securities fraud case in years, the Supreme Court on Tuesday placed a towering obstacle in the path of shareholders looking for someone to sue when a stock purchase turns sour.

The decision in the case, Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc., was a major and ardently sought victory for investment banks, accountants and vendors — the deep pockets that have become nearly automatic targets of class-action lawsuits that accuse them of having engaged in a fraudulent scheme with the company that actually issued the stock.

The notion of “scheme liability,” as the theory behind such lawsuits is known, now appears to be dead.

The 5-3 decision held that in order to proceed with such a lawsuit, plaintiffs must be able to show that they had relied, in making their decision to acquire or hold stock, on the deceptive behind-the-scenes behavior of these financial institutions, often called secondary actors. But behavior that was never communicated to the marketplace cannot be said to have induced reliance, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.