"There's some serious allegations in there," said retired Lt .Col. Robert Maginnis, now an Army consultant. "If those, in fact, took place, investigations should ensue and the appropriate people should be punished. ... I don't doubt that we made many mistakes. That's characteristic of the fog [of war] and the confusion of the battlefield."
Human Rights First and the ACLU -- the groups bringing the lawsuit on their behalf -- allege such torture was part of the Pentagon playbook.
"They were basically told that this was a different type of war, and the rules didn't apply anymore," said ACLU executive director Anthony Romero.
"What we have done here is undermining our efforts to win hearts and minds and undermining our efforts to gather strategic intelligence so we can successfully fight and win, not only the current counter-insurgency, but the war on terror at large ," said Deborah Pearlstein of Human Rights First. "This is against our national security interests in the most immediate way."
Both the Pentagon and the Justice Department acknowledged the two men were prisoners but refused to comment on their allegations.
When the lawsuit was first filed, the Pentagon said in a written statement, "We vigorously dispute any assertion or implication that the Department of Defense approved of, sanctioned, or condoned as a matter of policy detainee abuse," but it did not address the specific allegations.
Some conservative legal scholars question if the case as a question of law has much standing. "The facts that they allege really do not tie these horrific events -- these instances of torture and beating and sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation -- to the secretary of defense," says Douglas Kmiec, a professor at Pepperdine Law School and a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration.
Also problematic, Kmiec says, are the notions of non-Americans suing for rights violated under the U.S. Constitution, or trying to enforce international treaties in a U.S. court. "As a matter of legal theory it's a very difficult case to prove and to convince a court that it has the jurisdiction to actually rule on the question in the first place."
Khalid and Sabbar say they believe their case will prevail, because they say they believe in the U.S. justice system.
"Because it's truth," Khalid said. "And when the American courts will hear my case … I am sure that the American justice [system] will believe that."
Avery Miller and Camille Elhassani contributed to this report.