The first trials of suspects accused of committing atrocities during Sierra Leone's civil war have started.
Sierra Leone is trying to come to terms with its brutal civil war
Pro-government militia leaders Moinina Fofana, Allieu Kondewa and Sam Hinga Norman are facing the UN-backed war crimes tribunal.
Among the charges are the forcible conscription of child soldiers - the first time the crime has been prosecuted under international law.
About 50,000 people were killed, and many more maimed and raped in the war.
The hearings were later adjourned until next Tuesday after Sam Hinga Norman sacked his defence counsel, saying he wanted to defend himself, the BBC's Alastair Leithead reports from Freetown.
Court officials estimate up to 500,000 people are direct victims of the violence meted out in the 1991-2002 conflict.
One particularly abhorrent feature of the conflict was the frequent hacking off of limbs, ears and lips of civilians, including children.
The three suspects, who face eight counts of committing war crimes, all belonged to the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), or Kamajors, a group that fought alongside the Sierra Leone army against rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Mr Hinga Norman was deputy defence minister.
Prosecution lawyers told the court the defendants were personally liable for crimes carried out under their orders "as if they committed each and every crime themselves".
They said they would produce witnesses testifying that Kamajor fighters paraded severed heads and ate the roasted flesh and intestines of their victims.
"The ghosts of thousands of murdered dead stand among us. They cry out for a fair and transparent trial - to let the world know what took place here, here in Sierra Leone," US prosecutor David Crane said in his opening statement.
The BBC's Lansana Fofana, who was in court, said Mr Norman, wearing a white flowing gown and matching hat, made notes while the prosecution made its case, at some points nodding his head.
Our correspondent says the prosecution will call on witnesses who will explain the barbaric nature of the Kamajor operation and for now they are keeping their witnesses away from the public until the trial proper commences.
The case against the three CDF men is particularly controversial in Sierra Leone, as much of the populace regards them as heroes for having helped repel the RUF, well known for their brutal treatment of civilians.
Next month, it will be the turn of the former rebels to appear in court.
Child soldiers have been used in conflicts across West Africa
But in the capital, Freetown, many think the rebels should have faced the court first.
Thirteen indictments have been issued so far, among them the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, accused of backing the RUF in exchange for diamonds.
The trials follow more than two years of investigation into crimes carried out during the bloody decade-long conflict and are seen as a test of whether the court, a combination of international and domestic law, can provide justice.
"We're expecting [the court] to give us a picture of who bears the greatest responsibility, so the others will see it and not go back to war," 20-year-old Jabati Mamba, who had his right arm lopped off just below the elbow in January 1999 told the Associated Press.
The special court is the first of its kind to sit UN-appointed judges alongside local judges, in the country where the crimes were committed.