Rendition, a new movie about civil liberties and the war on terrorism, gets many of the details right in its portrayal of the U.S. government's war on terror, but it also exaggerates others, says Robert Grenier, former head of the CIA counter-terrorism center.
"There was a human reality that I think it captured, and a lot of moral ambiguity," Grenier tells Steve Inskeep.
He added, "People in the war on terror find themselves in difficult circumstances where they have to make judgments that are morally ambiguous."
The movie is about the U.S. government's practice of "extraordinary rendition" — seizing foreign nationals suspected of terrorism for detention and interrogation in secret, overseas prisons. The U.S. insists that suspects are not transferred to places where officials know they will be tortured.
In the movie, an Egyptian-American chemical engineer suspected of terrorism seemingly disappears from the airport; he is sent to be interrogated by secret North African police. The movie tracks his wife (Reese Witherspoon) in her efforts to find him, and a CIA analyst based in North Africa (Jake Gyllenhaal) who questions his assignment after he witnesses the brutal interrogation tactics used by police there.
Grenier said that one scene, set in a fictional North African official's office, especially hit home. Grenier spent four years in North Africa.
"I haven't been in that office, of course, but I've been in that office," Grenier said.
Grenier said it is legal for the U.S. to send a suspect in custody to a third country for questioning, but that there are limitations on how that can be done and what can be done to the suspect.
"I can tell you, from my own experience, we have suspended cooperation with countries that violated the norms we've attempted to impose," Grenier said.
One scene in the movie depicts an interrogation technique called "waterboarding," in which interrogators pour water over a suspect's face to simulate drowning.
In the movie, an individual is handed over to a foreign service and subjected to waterboarding, with the tacit approval of the CIA. Grenier said that in real life, that would not be allowed under CIA rules.