U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said that defense requests for interviews with the detainees presented an unprecedented legal conflict between a defense's right to speak with witnesses who could help a defendant and the government's attempt to gather intelligence in the war on terrorism.
Lindh's attorneys have demanded face-to-face interviews while the government has rejected such a procedure. But the judge said he was exploring a video or telephone hookup.
CBS News Correspondent Teri Okita reports that Lindh's defense team believes testimony from prisoners captured in Afghanistan and held in Cuba could prove that the 21-year-old was not part of a conspiracy to kill fellow Americans.
Lindh, who is charged with conspiring to murder U.S. citizens, appeared in the courtroom wearing glasses for the first time. His mother, Marilyn Walker, sat in the second row but Lindh's father, Frank Lindh, did not attend the proceeding as he has in the past.
Ellis, who set another hearing on the issue for May 28, said defense lawyers seeking to interview potential witnesses would normally have the right "to look them in the eye."
But he said that, given national security concerns, that argument "isn't going to persuade me for pre-trial interviews."
Assistant U.S. attorney John Davis said he wasn't sure whether the Defense Department would even allow a video hookup because it could impede intelligence gathering.
The judge said that if that were the case "the government would not be able to proceed against this defendant."
Ellis said he was thinking of allowing a video hookup so defense lawyers could see the detainees being interviewed and assess their credibility.
Instead of access to the prisoners, prosecutors have proposed that Lindh's lawyers provide written questions to the detainees. Those questions would be pre-screened and asked by a Department of Defense review team.
The judge asked both sides to either reach an agreement between themselves or present final legal briefs which would allow him to resolve the issue.