The film begins with the September 11 attacks shown on television when Ali Amir enters a house and begins to perform salah (Islamic prayer) when he is kidnapped and taken to Guantanamo Bay detention camp, specifically Camp Delta.
Eight years later, Army Private first-class Amy Cole is placed as a guard at Guantanamo. Upon arrival, she volunteers for the IRF (the riot squad) and is cold towards the detainees, despite her contempt for the facility’s handling of detainees. While on duty, Ali tries to make conversation, but Amy is annoyed by his persistence and rebuffs his advances; in return, Ali throws his feces at her and is sent to the frequent flyer program (sleep deprivation punishment). Corporal “Randy” Ransdell also takes an interest in Amy, going as far as to attempt to have sex with her in a bathroom.
Amy enters Ali’s cell while it is being searched and notices suicide-prevention pamphlets on the floor. She finds Ali’s file, which reveals that he has a history of self-harm and discipline, becoming more and more violent as time passed. When Ali returns to his cell, he apologizes to Amy for his actions. He confides to her that he was born in Bremen, Germany and was not involved with terrorist groups, and a relationship forms between the two.
Eight months later, Ransdell lies to Amy and orders her to watch Ali shower, violating SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and Arabic social norms. Upon discovering that Ransdell lied, Amy files a report with her commanding officer, Colonel James Drummond. Drummond talks to Ransdell, who makes (unspecified) counter-accusations, and dismisses Amy’s complaint because Ransdell is her superior. Ransdell and Amy must both attend a board of inquiry (not shown nor later referred to). Amy begins to become more isolated from the other guards and is reassigned to the night shift.
One night, near the end of Amy’s tour at Guantanamo, Ali takes a blade hidden in his Quran and is about to commit suicide, but is talked down by Amy, who tells him her name and where she’s from (also violations of SOP). At this point, it is clear that her feelings towards the detainee have softened as she is distressed by the possibility of him dying. As Amy leaves Guantanamo teary-eyed, Ali discovers the Harry Potter book he had been hoping for over two years, finding she had written a note inside saying: “To Ali, I don’t know if Snape’s a good guy. But I know you are. Love, Blondie”