Despite several interruptions, 13-hour arraignment proceedings were held Saturday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for self-professed mastermind of the September 11th attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators.
The men each face a barrage of charges, including 2,976 counts of murder apiece for their alleged roles in the attacks on the Twin Towers.
Each faces the death penalty if convicted.
At one point Saturday, defendant Ramzi Binalshibh complained of mistreatment at the military base and told the judge, "Maybe they are going to kill us and say that I have committed suicide."
Another defendant, Walid bin Attash, removed his shirt at one point to show off scars he says he received at Guantanamo.
The military judge said he would not deal yet with mistreatment issues brought up by the defense.
The issue will likely be a major focus over the course of the trial.
Terrorism expert and George Washington University professor Jerrold Post says the Defense Department has acknowledged Mohammed alone was waterboarded more than 100 times since he has been in U.S. custody.
"It's not difficult to understand this -- especially since so much violence had been perpetrated by the Muslim extremists. Having said that, when we descend to the level of the terrorists, and the violence we perpetrate is part of counterterrorism, we've really kind of lost that shining 'city on the hill' image, and the very thing we're fighting for," Post said.
The military judge has prevented lawyers from talking specifically about torture during the proceedings.
Mohammed in the past has mocked the judicial process and said he welcomed execution.
At times Saturday, two of the defendants kneeled in prayer, ignoring the proceedings altogether, and later recess was granted several times to allow prayer time for the defendants.
"One of the reasons for doing this in a military commission, they said, was so that they could streamline the process, and get a sense of justice quickly. And it's turned out to be quite the opposite," said Josh Meyer, the author of "The Hunt For KSM."
Meyer, who has written extensively on the 9/11 mastermind, believes the defendants are strategically clogging up the process. While cooperating with their attorneys, they would not acknowledge the court Saturday, ignored the judge's questions and removed the earphones providing Arabic translation. They could also be seen chatting and laughing among themselves.
"I think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his sidekicks came into court today with a plan, and the plan was to drag this out as much as possible, to throw a monkey wrench into things, and basically disrupt it. and that's what they did. and they seemed to be having a great time doing it," said Meyer.
Critics said the military commission is unworkable.
"It's chaotic. Questions of torture are rampant in the courtroom. The inadequacy of resources for defense council, it's really clear that these military commissions are not ready for prime time," said Anthony Romero of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Both sides will be back in court from June 12 to 15 to address a number of pre-trial motions, including issues raised in court Saturday, like the fact the defendants were strip-searched before coming to court, and what the defense says is a lack of access to translators.
The Justice Department originally planned to hold civilian trials in Lower Manhattan -- a move that led to a public outcry.
That plan was dropped after Congress passed legislation prohibiting Guantanamo detainees from being brought to the U.S.
Meanwhile, emotions ran high for 9/11 families who watched the proceedings from inside and outside of the courtroom.
About 30 families and first responders watched the arraignments on live closed-circuit television at Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Some grew frustrated when Ramzi Binalshibh complained about the way he's been treated.
"It's a shame. This case is becoming a debacle. It's been a mess for 11 years between the military commissions and the civil court," said James Riches, who lost his son in the terror attacks.
"They're engaging in jihad in the courtroom. And we expect that this is what they are going to do for the duration of the trail," said Debra Burlingame, who lost her brother in the terror attacks.
Private viewings were also being held at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, and a Naval Station in Norfolk, Virginia.
The only public viewing site is in a theater at Fort Meade in Maryland, though seating for that video feed is limited.
A select group of family members was chosen by lottery to attend the proceedings in person.
"It's important to be here, to bear witness to the process. And to seek justice on John's behalf. And on behalf of all the victims of 9/11," said Tara Henwood-Butzbaugh, who lost her brother in the attacks.
"They should get justice and if they should die, they should die. Because they killed all people," said Eddie Bracken, who lost his sister in the attacks.
NY1's Bobby Cuza is one of a select number of journalists in Cuba for the arraignment and will be filing reports throughout the weekend.