Panetta filed the papers on Monday in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which wants the documents made public.

Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU's national security programme, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration's argument that the information should remain sealed because it could fuel anti-American propaganda was "grim" and "troubling".

'Torture' claims

The documents detail the contents of 92 videotapes, their destruction in 2005 by the CIA - which sparked a criminal investigation - and what Panetta said was "sensitive operational information" about the interrogation of prisoners by the CIA in secret prisons.

Officials have previously said that some of the tapes showed torture, or so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" carried out during the administration of George Bush.

There are also also dozens of CIA communication documents which Panetta said described the "techniques" used on suspects and what information was obtained from them.

Rights groups and critics of the Bush administration contend the release of the documents would reveal who was responsible for ordering and carrying out abuses.

Last month Barack Obama, the US president, also said that he would try to block the court-ordered release of photos showing US troops abusing prisoners, in a reversal of his previous position on the issue.

He said he altered his decision out of concern the pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.