Two former Iraqi detainees tell ABC News in an exclusive interview that they were repeatedly tortured by U.S. forces seeking information about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.
Thahee Sabbar and Sherzad Khalid are two of eight men who, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union and the group Human Rights First, are suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The men claim they were tortured for months, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law.
Torture has been the center of controversy lately. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War -- has sparked a heated debate after his proposed amendment to ban torture was reportedly the subject of intense lobbying by Vice President Dick Cheney, who sought an exemption for CIA officers.
When asked about it, President Bush said, "Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people ... Any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture."
But after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal -- according to the Pentagon's own investigations -- it is irrefutable that U.S. forces have tortured detainees, many of whom claim they had no involvement at all with al Qaeda or the insurgency in Iraq, but were nonetheless arrested by U.S. soldiers and physically abused.
Sabbar and Khalid say they are two such men.
Khalid -- a 34-year-old married father of four children -- says he worked in the grocery business until July 17, 2003, when U.S. soldiers interrupted a business meeting he was having with Thahee Sabbar, who sold sugar and bananas. U.S. soldiers, they say, interrupted their meeting and arrested them.
"I was very surprised when they arrested me," Khalid told ABC News through a translator. "They did not give any reason why they were taking me. And we asked them, but no answer. The only answer was severe beating."
Khalid says U.S. soldiers tied his hands behind his back, put a hood over his head, and beat him to the point of breaking his tooth and bloodying his nose. Sabbar claims he suffered similar treatment, with soldiers dislocating his shoulder.
Khalid told ABC News that U.S. soldiers at one point threatened him with live lions.
"They took us to a cage -- an animal cage that had lions in it within the Republican Palace," he said. "And they threatened us that if we did not confess, they would put us inside the cage with the lions in it. It scared me a lot when they got me close to the cage, and they threatened me. And they opened the door and they threatened that if I did not confess, that they were going to throw me inside the cage. And as the lion was coming closer, they would pull me back out and shut the door, and tell me, 'We will give you one more chance to confess.' And I would say, 'Confess to what?'"
Inside the Republican Palace -- the site of Saddam's former office -- Sabbar says troops taunted him with a mock execution.
"I found the other prisoners who had come before me there in the line beside me mocking, in a way as to make it a mock execution," he said. "They all stood up, those of us who could stand up. They directed their weapons towards us. And they shot, shot towards our heads and chests. And when the shots sounded, some of us lost consciousness. Some started to cry. Some lost control of their bladders. And they were laughing the whole time."