An American chemical engineer, found to have connections to a terrorist group, is detained when returning to the US, and taken to a secret prison where he is tortured. Omar Metwally plays the lead character of Anwar El-Ibrahimi. He is in South Africa for a business meeting. At the same time an accident in the main square in another country in North Africa causes CIA Agent Douglas Freeman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), with a another CIA Agent Dixon (played by David Fabrizio), to be stuck in traffic when a bomb goes off. CIA Agent Dixon is killed from the explosion along with many other people. This makes Douglas the temporary CIA supervisor for the area. When El-Ibrahimi returns to the US he is arrested by customs officers. CIA director Corrine Whitman (played by Meryl Streep) orders him to be taken to secret prison where he is stripped naked and tortured by Fawal (played by Igal Naor) under the watchful supervision of CIA Agent Douglas. A terrorist named Rashid Salimi publicly claims responsibility for the bombing. El-Ibrahimi has many phone calls from Rashid Salimi on his phone records, but when interrogated denies knowing him. A young couple, Khalid (played by Moa Khoas) and Fatima (played by Zineb Oukach), in North Africa falls in love. The young man is part of a terrorist group. He wants to get even for losing his brother.
El-Ibrahimi's pregnant wife Isabella (played by Reese Witherspoon) and his son wait for him to arrive at the Chicago airport. The CIA has erased his record of being on the flight. But his wife finds he ordered duty free while he was on the plane. She goes to meet the aide of the Senator Hawkins (played by Alan Arkin), Alan Smith (played by Peter Sarsgaard). Senator Hawkins tells his assistant Alan, Corrine Whitman is the one who orders those detained for secret interrogation. They called this “extraordinary rendition.” Alan tells Isabella how the process works and Anwar has been taken for interrogation. They torture Anwar with water demanding to know why Rashid called him. He does not cooperate. Fawal goes home and learns his daughter Fatima is missing. She ran off with the young man, Khalid. Fatima helps Khalid make posters for a protest. The police brutally beat and arrest the protestors. The young couple barely escapes being arrested. Fawal learns Fatima is with Khalid.
Alan confronts Corrine Whitman at a public event. They have an intense debate. Alan demands she bring El-Ibrahimi home to the USA. She refuses. Senator Hawkins confronts Alan for what he did with Corrine Whitman. The Senator tells him about the phone calls, which connect Rashid and El-Ibrahimi. The Senator tells him to back off. Alan calls Isabella to his office. He tells her, there is evidence her husband is connected to a terrorist group. He tells her to contact a lawyer and there is nothing else he can do.
El-Ibrahimi breaks down under torture and confesses he talked with Rashid and gave him information to increase the effectiveness of explosives. He also tells the names of other terrorists, which are names from his soccer team when he was a young man. CIA Agent Douglas figures out it is a false confession. He gets Minister of the Interior out of bed and forces him to sign papers releasing El-Ibrahimi from the torture prison back into his custody.
Isabella confronts Corrine Whitman in front of Senator Hawkins. She screams at her in public. Security forces her to leave the building.
Fatima finds a photo album showing Khalid's brother was tortured and killed by her father Fawal. She realizes they plan to kill her father. Fawal comes looking for Fatima at Khalid‘s house. He sees the grandmother of the Khalid praying for her son. Fatima rushes to the main square. Meanwhile, CIA Agent Douglas gets El-Ibrahimi safely out of prison.
Flashback to the time before, when Fawal comes to the main square to have a cup of coffee. His daughter sees him from across the square. There is the same traffic jam we saw at the beginning of the movie. Fatima sees Khalid wearing a bomb. She rushes to stop him, calling his name. He stops short of getting close enough to kill Fawal. Fatima tells him Fawal is her father and pleads with him not to kill him. The terrorist men shot at Khalid with a rifle. They miss. Fawal escapes from hearing the first shot. The second one kills Khalid. He let's go of the bomb trigger. The bomb explodes killing Khalid, Fatima and everyone around her. Khalid's grandmother tells Fawal both her son and his daughter are now with God.
CIA Agent Douglas gets El-Ibrahimi safely out of the country by taking him to a boat in order to leave the country. He calls the Washington Post newspaper to give them the story of the torture prison. Fawal comforts his wife who now knows Fatima is dead. CIA Agent Douglas gets a call from his boss. He hangs up the phone on him. The story breaks about rendition and the torture prisons, in the U.S. newspapers. Corrine Whitman's phone is ringing like crazy. El-Ibrahimi returns to his home and hugs his son in the front yard. Isabella comes out front, with her new baby in her arms, to hug her husband.
Best part of story, including ending:
This story shows how political power may be misused so easily. It is interesting to see how certain actions, like the trading of a cell phone with another person, have unexpected consequences.
Best scene in story:
The most intense scene is when the Senator's aide Alan confronts the CIA director Corrine Whitman in public. The debate they have about the merits of using secret prisons to extract information from terrorists is very harsh.
Opinion about the main character:
El-Ibrahimi never seems guilty of anything. It was great when CIA Agent Douglas sacrifices his career in order to set an innocent man free.