NEW YORK - The nation's top intelligence officials have told a federal appeals court in recent days that a July ruling requiring the government to disclose virtually all its information on Guantanamo detainees could cause "exceptionally grave damage to the national security," and the Justice Department has filed a request to overturn the decision.
The July 20 decision by a federal appeals court panel was an important victory for detainees' lawyers, who said it could pierce layers of secrecy shielding what the government knows about many of the 340 men held at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The intelligence officials, including the directors of the CIA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency, said in court filings that the vast disclosure would reveal clandestine activities and could disrupt intelligence gathering.
They also said assembling the information was so time-consuming that the effort had distracted the agencies from terrorism investigations.
General Michael V. Hayden, CIA director, said in a Sept. 6 affidavit that the information the appeals panel had ordered turned over to detainees' lawyers "would include information about virtually every weapon in the CIA's arsenal" and was likely to cause people who are providing information to stop cooperating.
"This outcome," Hayden wrote, "would severely restrict the US government's ability to collect intelligence and wage the war on terrorism."
The fight about the disclosure is becoming one of the central legal confrontations over Guantanamo.
"This is just a smoke screen to hide the fact that they can't justify the detentions," said David H. Remes, a Washington lawyer who represents a Pakistani detainee at Guantanamo.
But some supporters of the administration said the court, in making its ruling, did not fully consider the impact on intelligence operations.
"The court really didn't understand what the practical implications would be from its ruling," said Bradford A. Berenson, a former associate counsel to President Bush.