A federal court issued a preliminary order yesterday directing the Bush administration to preserve any evidence that might show that a terrorism suspect was tortured during his three years in secret CIA detention.

The order, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, gave the government until Dec. 20 to respond to a filing last week that accused the CIA of torturing Majid Khan, 27.

Khan is among 15 high-value detainees once held by the CIA but now in military custody at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Khan's lawyers requested the court action last week. Also last week, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden acknowledged that the agency had destroyed videotapes of the interrogations of two other Guantanamo detainees who, like Khan, had spent years in secret CIA custody.

Khan, who was a legal U.S. resident and graduated from a Baltimore-area high school, was captured in Pakistan in March 2003. He has not been charged with a crime. Pentagon officials contend he was assigned by reputed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to research "the poisoning of U.S. water reservoirs and the possibility of blowing up gas stations."

Of the 15 high-value captives, only Khan has been allowed to see his attorneys.

Based on the meetings, his attorneys alleged in a 25-page motion that ample proof existed that Khan had been tortured, and they asked the appeals court to order that evidence be preserved.

It is impossible to verify the attorneys' claims independently. Intelligence officers blacked out major portions of their filing before it was released publicly.

A CIA spokesman has denied allegations that it tortured Khan or any others as part of its interrogation effort that began in 2002.

The appeals court directed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to "take all measures necessary to preserve the material described in the motion for preservation of torture evidence pending the remainder of briefing on that motion and further order of the court."

This article includes information from the Associated Press.