Created By: TheRedFear on September 6, 2012 Last Edited By: StarSword on December 12, 2014
Troped

Torture Is Ineffective

When torture doesn\'t work

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"A lot of people's first instinct when they need information out of a captive is to grab a baseball bat or a gun. The fact is, torture is for sadists and thugs. It's like getting groceries with a flamethrower: it doesn't work, and it makes a mess."
Michael Westen, "Comrades", Burn Notice

Torture is shown or said to be ineffective.

In some media works, torture is effective in obtaining information or extracting truthful confessions. In others, it isn't. This may be because the creators want to deliver An Aesop about the wrongness or evils of torture. Or it may simply be that the plot requires that torture not work this time around.

If it's meant to be an Aesop, the ineffectiveness of torture will generally be directly stated by a protagonist or other "good guy" character. (If an antagonistic character says it, they're usually a Strawman Political figure and this trope will not be in effect.)

Plot-related reasons why torture might not be effective include:

  • The character being tortured is so Badass or pain-resistant that they're able to hold out until rescued or the torturer gives up.
  • The torturee is Too Kinky to Torture (all examples of this go on that page.)
  • The character being tortured has a prepared lie that will take just enough time to check out that the real plan can go ahead while the torturer is distracted.
  • The torturer is inept and asks the wrong questions, or allows Exact Words to mask the truth.
  • The victim of the torture is an innocent person who doesn't know anything, and only tells the torturer what they want to hear to make the pain stop. Note that this is not an instance of ineffective torture if the torturers simply want someone to confess.

Contrast Torture Always Works, where the techniques are effective, Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, where torture is effective enough and justified by time pressures, Torture First, Ask Questions Later where the ineffectiveness of the torture is down to an overeager torturer rather than the methodology, and Torture for Fun and Information where the effectiveness of the torture is secondary to the torturer's enjoyment of the procedure.

Examples:

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    Fan Works 
  • In "Frostbite" Dalsh Ruul, a Breen captain, tries to get Commander Tess Phohl to talk by first threatening to kill one of her noncoms, then by using a painstick. Neither has any effect whatsoever: The only thing of substance Tess says the whole time apart from name, rank, and serial number is that if Dalsh Ruul kills said noncom, Tess' captain will personally strangle him with his own intestines. None of the other captured members of the away team say anything, either, apart from Specialist Atti calling the Breen's mother a whore.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Mad Scientist Duran Duran tries to wrangle the secrets from the titular Barbarella using a machine called the Orgasmotron. After banging off the equivalent of a Beethoven piano concerto on the machine's controls, it falls apart from overuse. The madman is astonished that a woman can endure multiple orgasms. Surprise, surprise.
  • In The Dark Knight Batman pummels the Joker in the police interrogation room, but Joker who laughs it off because torture would never make him talk. He only tells Batman what Batman wants to hear because it amuses him to.
  • In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, an Imperial officer warns Darth Vader that Princess Leia will die before telling him anything. In subsequent scenes Leia withstands both a session with a torture droid and a mind probe with the Force without cracking. Even when Grand Moff Tarkin threatens to destroy her homeworld with the Death Star if she won't give up the Rebels' headquarters, she instead gives him information on a base they'd already abandoned.

    Literature 
  • In Raiders of Gor the city-state of Port Kar is attacked. They capture some of the attackers and torture them for information, as is common on Gor. After interviewing one captive, who "confesses" that a whole series of other city-states are in on it, it's explicitly stated by the protagonist that the torturees will say anything the torturers want in order for the torture to stop.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld: Night Watch, Sam Vimes, a man pathologically opposed to actual physical torture, gets results by subjecting captured members of the secret police to psychological warfare: he plays on their imagination, their knowledge, and their guilty consciences about torture to terrify them into confessing. (They are led to believe by sound and play-acting that one of their number is being tortured, unseen but definitely heard, in a cell round the corner.)
  • In Iain Banks' Transition, a torturer/narrator explains that the worst torture of all is just describing what will happen. Later in the same book, torture fails to work, but only because the character being tortured teleports out of his body first.
  • The Dark Ones in Murderess fail to get any information from their prisoner Aucasis about her brother Hallwad’s whereabouts. While it’s likely she has no idea herself, she doesn’t even give them false information to get them to leave her alone.
  • In Ciaphas Cain: The Traitor's Hand, The Rival Commissar Tomas Beije attempts to torture information out of a Slaanashi cultist, only to get spontaneously kissed for his trouble. Cain comments in his Internal Monologue that trying to torture information out of Slaaneshi is about as ineffective as torture gets, and he's able to get a captured smuggler to talk with a simple Good Cop/Bad Cop routine.
  • In the Tom Clancy novel The Sum of All Fears, the terrorists who nuked the Super Bowl are captured by Clark and Chavez. Clark uses some Fingore on them to get information on their backer, and after holding out for a while, the terrorists finger the nation of Iran. The catch is that they had planned this as an attempted Xanatos Gambit: if the US does retaliate against Iran, they will have "made an enemy out of all Islam".
  • The Dark Ones in Murderess fail to get any information from their prisoner Aucasis about her brother Hallwad's whereabouts. While it's likely she has no idea herself, she doesn't even give them false information to get them to leave her alone.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Warehouse 13: When Mrs. Frederick resorts to "Enhanced Interrogation" to get information out of Sally on how to prevent the destruction of a building the Regents are trapped within, Agent Jinks pauses to remind Mrs. F that is has been statistically proven that torture never yields viable information. Jinks apparently forgot the fact that the only reason Sally is in that situation to begin is that she successfully tortured one Regent until said Regent revealed the location of the others. Or he said that deliberately as part of a plan to infiltrate the enemy group.
  • Burn Notice: Series protagonist Michael Westen narrates on the futility of torture or enhanced interrogation very frequently. He has even gone so far as to let himself be tortured as a means of feeding false information to his adversary. Other successful techniques have been a High-Altitude Interrogation (dropping a guy out of a window with a cable to arrest his fall, in order to get the other prisoner to talk from the screams), and Madeline Westen very calmly and sweetly talking the information out of a prisoner over a cigarette after a beating from Fiona doesn't work.
    • Defied in the same vein in "Friends Like These" when money-launderer Barry Burkowski suggests using Electric Torture on one of the people who they think stole his records.
      Barry: I heard you can attach them to a car battery, spark it up, and get—
      Michael: Torture just gets you the fastest lie to make the pain stop.
  • Jericho: When an interrogation gets a bit too intense for Jake, Hawkins reveals he was bluffing about the extent to which he was willing to go because he knows from personal experience that real torture only works in movies.
    Jake: What were you gonna do?
    Hawkins: To get the truth? Less than you would have. You see, I've done—I've done enough, Jake, to know better. It's the fear of torture that gets results. Actual torture...only works in the movies.
  • Lost featured many torture scenes, most of which featured ex-torturer Sayid as the victim. In a few cases, the victim knew nothing. In others, the victim simply didn't break down. In one, Sayid eventually broke down, but he responded to the interrogator's attempts to attract sympathy rather than the torture.
  • In an episode of Get Smart a retired spy living at an Old Spy Home is tortured for the whereabouts of his diary, in which he has written down many secret things, but he successfully resists.
  • In an episode of Bones the Victim of the Week was a Salary Man paper-pusher at the CIA who investigates a diamond smuggling operation on his own after his superiors didn't think there was anything to it. He is killed by torture but never gives up the info they were after. CIA agents point out that even most well-trained field agents would crack under what he was subjected to. After the crime is solved, he is given a star on the CIA "Killed in Action" wall even though his position didn't qualify for that honor.
  • Played with in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Chain of Command." Picard tells his captor that torture has historically been an ineffective way of obtaining information, and in this case it also helped that he didn't know the specific information they wanted (Federation defense plans for a disputed planet). However, at the end of the episode, Picard confesses to Troi that he had indeed been broken by the end of his imprisonment: only being informed of his freedom at the last second brought him back to his senses long enough to shout defiance at his captor.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Talion", Teal'c tortures a man involved in several bombings against the Free Jaffa Nation but gets little useful information. In prior episodes his technique of sitting across the table from the prisoner and simply glaring at them until they talk was a hell of a lot more effective.

    Video Games 
  • Knights of the Old Republic:
    • When the Ebon Hawk is captured by Sith Admiral Saul Karath's flagship after the acquisition of the third Plot Coupon, the Player Character, Carth Onasi, and Bastila Shan are tortured by electrocution. It's only as effective as the player wants it to be, since the PC is the only one being questioned (it's a "talk and I'll stop hurting your friends, too" thing), and the scene is formatted mechanically as a conversation with options to say nothing, lie, or tell the truth.
    • Subverted when Darth Malak takes Bastila prisoner. In a cutscene he tortures her with Force Lightning not to get information, but to break her spirit and allow him to turn her to the Dark Side. He succeeds, and Bastila becomes your opponent in a Mini-Boss battle in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.

    Webcomics 
  • The Order of the Stick: Redcloak and Xykon torture the captured Azure City paladin O'Chul for weeks to try and get information on the Snarl from him. O'Chul sincerely doesn't know squat, and despite the torture he retains the presence of mind to memorize Xykon's entire spell list, which he passes on to the Order of the Stick after he's freed.

    Real Life 
  • During the Salem witch trials in American history, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft. He refused to plead guilty or not guilty, and according to the laws of the time, someone who did not plead could not be tried. The solution was to torture the accused until they would plead, and the authorities began to place heavy boulders on Giles Corey, slowly crushing him to death. According to legend, he was in great pain for hours under the weight of several boulders, but the only words he would utter were, "more weight!" In the end, he died, but his refusal to plead meant the state could not take possession of Corey's property, allowing his children to inherit his estate. Dramatized in Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible.
  • In December 2014 the United States Senate published part of a report on the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" under the George W. Bush administration, which Barack Obama promptly banned after taking office in 2009. They came to the conclusion that the CIA drastically overstated how effective the techniques were at getting information out of prisoners. The CIA disagreed. More from National Public Radio here.

Indexes: A Tortured Index,

Community Feedback Replies: 72
  • September 6, 2012
    Routerie
    Is this about the attitude that torture never works? Or will this list examples of torture failing to work?
  • September 6, 2012
    TheRedFear
    Is there any reason it can't be both? I'm genuinely asking. Creating a page here is virgin territory for me. Those two things seem to go hand in hand to me. If I had to pick one or the other, it's probably more about the attitude.
  • September 6, 2012
    TheRedFear
    The Torture Always Works page seems to be equally made up of examples and attitude alike in my opinion.
  • September 6, 2012
    kjnoren
    Torture Always Works is currently in the Trope Repair Shop. Since your proposal is the inversion of that trope, I'd advise you to go that way.

    Anyway, my impression of your current write-up is that while there might be a trope here, your write-up is more of a tract than a way to explore a trope, and it's entirely lacking examples.
  • September 6, 2012
    TheRedFear
    Again. New to creating pages here. I didn't realize I had to supply the examples. I thought the nature of this website is that a lot of different users supply the examples. I'll start digging up examples, but my inexperience at editing pages is definitely going to show here.
  • September 6, 2012
    captainpat
    It's easier for other tropers to provide examples with a clearer description. This description needs to be trimmed down, and make sure to read up on the YKTTW Guidelines.
  • September 6, 2012
    Routerie
    "Torture Always Works" has a bad name (and has faced many problems) because torture doesn't always work, not even in fiction. Many pages with "always" or "every" or "never" face similar problems.

    So if you want to make a page for Failed Torture Interrogation, that's great, but I don't suggest you name it "Torture Never Works." If you want to make a page for the attitude that torture never works, you can name it "Torture Never Works," but that would be a far more limited page.

    • Lost featured many torture scenes, most of which featured ex-torturer Sayid as the victim. In a few cases, the victim knew nothing. In others, the victim simply didn't break down. In one, Sayid eventually broke down, but he responded to the interrogator's attempts to attract sympathy rather than the torture.
  • September 6, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Yep, Torture Never Works when Sayid "And I am a torturer" Jarrah is involved, which I mentioned in the latter trope's page.
  • September 6, 2012
    abk0100
    ^^Yes, that. Well, the second paragraph at least.
  • September 7, 2012
    Rognik
    @The Red Pear: examples are not always needed at the start, but it's better to come in with at least one or two to use to demonstrate the trope in question. It's sometimes easier to look at an example and say, "Oh, THAT'S how it's supposed to work", rather than read through the description and puzzle out what you are trying to get at.

    Just now reading through your write-up and I disagree fully with the second-last paragraph. I can see this trope in my mind's eye, and almost never has the interrogator being from Eagle Land. Rather, when using this trope, it shows that the hero is such a Bad Ass that he can withstand all sorts of physical and excruciating pain that he won't betray his country/friends/beliefs and the torturers are weak, cowardly and definitely villainous. The trope focuses on the hero more than the torturer, unless used to have leads reduced or brickwalled.

    Finally, this isn't really important, but you shouldn't try to be funny in your laconic unless the trope is truly comedic. It is a tone dissonance, and just does not help with the building or refining of the trope.
  • September 7, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In Raiders of Gor the city-state of Port Kar is attacked. They capture some of the attackers and torture them for information, as is common on Gor. After interviewing one captive, who "confesses" that a whole series of other city-states are in on it, it's explicitly stated by the protagonist that the torturees will say anything the torturers want in order for the torture to stop.
    • In an episode of Get Smart a retired spy living at an Old Spy Home is tortured for the whereabouts of his diary, in which he has written down many secret things, but he successfully resists.
    • In an episode of Bones the Victim Of The Week was a Salary Man paper-pusher at the CIA who investigates a diamond smuggling operation on his own after his superiors didn't think there was anything to it. He is killed by torture but never gives up the info they were after. CIA agents point out that even most well-trained field agents would crack under what he was subjected to. After the crime is solved, he is given a star on the CIA "Killed in Action" wall even though his position didn't qualify for that honor.
  • September 9, 2012
    TheRedFear
    Good point about the Eagle Land paragraph so I removed it. I added a few examples, but even though I copy/pasted the "Live Action TV" header exactly as it appeared on another page, it doesn't seem to be showing properly here.
  • September 9, 2012
    abk0100
    That's just YKTTW. It will look right once it's on the wiki itself.
  • September 9, 2012
    TheRedFear
    @ Rognik: I wasn't sure what to put in the laconic line. The other Laconic lines here all appeared to be humorous slants on the premise, so I followed the trend. I'll go ahead and change it to something more serious if you want. If you have a better laconic in mind, by all means feel free to change it.
  • September 9, 2012
    Waterlily
    I agree that Failed Torture Interrogation sounds like a good trope but the whole tone of this bothers me, both the laconic line and the description. It sounds too much like it's defending torture and people who portray it badly are too "politically correct."
  • September 9, 2012
    randomsurfer
    ^^Laconic is supposed to be a brief, one-sentence summary of the trope. others trying to be funny about it are doing it wrong, and/or are describing more humorous tropes.
  • September 9, 2012
    Dacilriel
    To me, the main post looks more like a rant against people who are opposed to torture than an actual trope description. I know you said you are new to writing trope descriptions, so here is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind: when you are writing about something that is socially or politically charged try to present the issue as fairly as possible. Remember that tropers cover the whole range of positions and beliefs.

    I think that if the article is launched as is you'll get a lot of angry edits from people who are opposed to torture feeling like they're being painted as obssessed with political-correctness, and then you'll get a lot of angry responses from people who support torture. Refer to Edit War and Rule Of Cautious Editing Judgement.

    I would recommend that you describe the attitude of torture being ineffective by simply stating what the belief is, giving some reasons why people feel that way, and giving a hypothetical example or two of how it might play out. You can also explain why that attitude might be fallible, but make sure you are giving a clear explanation, not a complaint.

    For a laconic I would recommend something like "characters don't believe that torture works" or "torture fails to yield results." The current laconic referencing political correctness and aesops could apply to anything and makes no reference to torture.

    It takes some time and experience to get the hang of writing up descriptions, so I hope my comments were helpful.
  • September 10, 2012
    robinjohnson
    If you're calling people "politically correct" i.e. decent human beings, and making like that's an insult, you're being deliberately inflammatory. I don't think this is usable.
  • September 10, 2012
    KingZeal
    I love how the trope description seems to be arguing that if torture doesn't work 99% of the time in the setting, the one time out of a hundred it did work supposedly means it should be given equal consideration.
  • September 10, 2012
    Bisected8
    I agree with robin and kjnoren, this sounds less like a trope and more like a "why are there people with views different to mine!?" rant.
  • September 10, 2012
    abk0100
    The trope itself seems fine (A work preaches against torture by saying that it's ineffective)

    But, yeah, tone down the opinion.
  • September 10, 2012
    nitrokitty
    This sounds like complaining. Despite decades of psychological research showing that torture is unreliable at best, you seem to believe that these people are just being "politically correct", which carries a lot of Unfortunate Implications. Take your soapboxing somewhere else, or rewrite the trope to be more neutral.
  • September 10, 2012
    foxley
    Being opposed to torture is not being 'politically correct'.
  • September 10, 2012
    Ryusui
    Played with in the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Chain of Command." Picard tells his captor that torture has historically been an ineffective way of obtaining information. However, at the end of the episode, Picard confesses to Troi that he had indeed been broken by the end of his imprisonment: only being informed of his freedom at the last second brought him back to his senses long enough to shout defiance at his captor.
  • September 11, 2012
    TheRedFear
    Please point specifically to the lines that you feel show bias/rant/etc. Suggested rewording would be nice, but is optional.
  • September 11, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ - any use of the words "politically correct"

    - the sentence beginning "Because the victims are not sufficiently capable" sounds mildly combative so some might take offense but not so much it must be removed

    - the whole paragraph beginning "To back up the writer's viewpoint..." is confusing because it focuses in detail on incompetent interrogation (which I imagine probably has its own tropes) rather than staying on the theme of torture

    - "The morality of Torture/Enhanced Interrogation will never be touched upon, or only breifly glossed over." This is a trope about differing views on the morality of torture... its not possible for a work including this trope to never address morality. It's possible but not certain they won't address the opposing viewpoint (though some would argue that's not their job, especially in a fictional work that may already border on preachy).

    - "Anytime a character utters some variation of the words 'Torture never works', chances are the writer is delivering an aesop meant to enlighten the great unwashed masses." Not offensive but too sweeping and because of that, it implies an incorrect definition for Aesop. Just because a work includes a character opposed to torture doesn't mean the entire point of the episode/series is that Torture Never Works.
  • September 11, 2012
    abk0100
    Like, foxley pointed out, the line that mentions political correctness. You're presenting it as Political Correctness Gone Mad, when it's really just "some media shows that it's against torture by saying that it doesn't work." Other media presents the opposite point-of-view. I don't think either of them are doing it because it's politically correct - they're doing it because that's the message that they want to send to their audience.
  • September 11, 2012
    foxley
    The laconic implies that only the 'politically correct' are opposed to torture.
  • September 11, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Like foxley and Star Valkyrie said, the repeated use of the term "political correctness" doesn't work. You seem to be equating torture with things like whether it's proper to say "Black" or "African-American."

    Also, the repeated use of the word "aesop" is questionable. That only applies if the story is intending to give a moral. Do you want the trope to be about the morality of torture, or do you want it to be about failed torture and the reasons it fails? If you want it to be about morality, then referring to it as an aesop works, but you need to rewrite a good portion of the description to explain the moral standpoint against torture. If you want it to be about failed torture, then remove the aesop reference altogether.

    "And politically correct Hollywood is going to make damn sure we know that, by repeating it over...and over...and over."

    This just sounds like complaining because you disagree with a popular viewpoint.

    "To back up the writer's viewpoint..."

    Just explain that the torture doesn't work either because the victim is too tough to give in or because the interrogator is incompetent. The introductory sentence reinforces that you disagree with the writer.

    "Because people who use torture/enhanced interrogation just love randomly snatching average joes off the street upon whom they can get their Jack Bauer on, before even attempting any other form of interrogation."

    The only characters I can think of who snatch up random people for torture are villains who just want to hurt somebody. It makes no sense for purposes of interrogation. If you're going to include this, make sure you have examples of legitimate interrogators snatching people up and going straight to torture before asking questions.

    "...meant to enlighten the great unwashed masses"

    This sounds like you're being sarcastic and you feel the writer is being preachy.

    Try to read over what you've written and think about how it looks to other people. Imagine that someone else wrote it, and you're reading it for the first time.
  • September 11, 2012
    abk0100
    another minor thing, the paragraph that starts with "Or the person being tortured will be nothing but a poor hapless soul" is already a trope.

    You also might want to link to Torture First Ask Questions Later somewhere.
  • September 11, 2012
    mdulwich
    Aside from the various criticisms noted above, there's also the point that such works won't necessarily claim that "torture never works". They might show that torture sometimes works, but the results are too unreliable: how useful is the information gathered through torture when you don't know whether it's genuine or whether the victim is just saying anything to get the torture to stop? There is I think a distinction between criticism of torture on the basis of morality (i.e. "torture is morally wrong whether it is reliable or not") and of usefulness ("torture isn't necessarily wrong but too unreliable to be a useful method".)

    Also: "the victims are not sufficiently capable of logic for it to occur to them that the pain they'll receive when their lie is uncovered will be orders of magnitude worse than the pain they were so desperate to end with their lies." This assumes that a victim will be capable of rational decision-making during torture. I would imagine that in such a situation the need to end the pain would override the capacity to think logically.

    You also wrongly assume that any depiction of torture failing to work is inherently an aesop. For example, Darth Vader's attempts to torture Princess Leia for information (the location of the Rebel base) in Star Wars fails because it serves both characterisation (showing Leia to be strong-willed) and plot (leading to the destruction of Alderaan, bringing the heroes on board the Death Star and so on). If the torture had succeeded, the plot would pretty much fall apart at this point. Whether George Lucas is "politically correct" for doing this is nether here nor there.

    And yes, the tone really is pretty inflammatory.
  • September 11, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    This reads like an opinion piece, not a TV Tropes article.

    I haven't seen Burn Notice, but I doubt anyone actually asserts that torture never works. Sacrificing goats or drilling holes in skulls probably "works" once in a while. As far as I know, opposition to officially-sanctioned torture that makes any reference to its effectiveness usually cites that it doesn't always work or that it doesn't work often enough to justify its use. (And it is easily opposed on grounds completely unrelated to whether or how often it works.) Any argument that relies on absolutes like "never" or "always" should be evaluated extra skeptically. The premise is a straw-man argument.
  • September 11, 2012
    foxley
    Generally in Burn Notice, Michael says that torture is a very unreliable means of gaining information and that once you start torturing someone, they will tell you whatever you want to hear in order to make it stop, regardless of whether it is the truth or not.
  • September 11, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Personally, I'd oppose torture even if it were completely effective. Cutting off someone's hands is a pretty effective way to prevent them from stealing. It's barbaric and cruel, though.
  • September 12, 2012
    abk0100
    If you want the exact quote from Burn Notice,

    "A lot of people's first instinct when they need information out of a captive is to grab a baseball bat or a gun. The fact is, torture is for sadists and thugs. It's like getting groceries with a flamethrower; it doesn't work, and it makes a mess."
  • September 12, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Maybe Doesnt Work instead of Never Works? But I don't see a trope here.
  • September 12, 2012
    nitrokitty
    ^ Agreed. This sounds like complaining, not a trope.
  • September 12, 2012
    abk0100
    I don't see anything wrong with a trope about works espousing the ineffectiveness of torture. As long as the description gets reworked, I'm fine with this.
  • September 12, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Ok, though "Opinion X is expressed" seems pretty flimsy. Would there be anything else to it?
  • September 14, 2012
    AgProv
    In Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, Sam Vimes, a man pathologically opposed to actual physical torture, gets results by subjecting captured members of the secret police to psychological warfare: he plays on their imagination, their knowledge, and their guilty consciences about torture to terrify them into confessing. (They are led to believe by sound and play-acting that one of their number is being tortured, unseen but definitely heard, in a cell round the corner)
  • March 9, 2013
    Freud
    In Ian Banks' Transition, a torturer/narrator explains that the worst torture of all is just describing what will happen. Later in the same book, torture fails to work, but only because the character being tortured teleports out of his body first.
  • March 9, 2013
    McKathlin
    I think there's a trope in here, but I recommend that the original author put this YKTTW Up For Grabs. It's difficult to set aside one's own strongly held opinion in order to do a rewrite. Welcoming others to edit the YKTTW description now is probably the easiest way to have something neutral to launch.
  • March 9, 2013
    SKJAM
    Here's a sample rewrite that answers at least some of the criticisms.

    Torture is shown or said to be ineffective.

    In some media works, torture is effective in obtaining information or extracting truthful confessions. In others, it isn't. This may be because the creators want to deliver An Aesop about the wrongness or evils of torture. Or it may simply be that the plot requires that torture not work this time around.

    If it's meant to be an Aesop, the ineffectiveness of torture will generally be directly stated by a protagonist or other "good guy" character. (If an antagonistic character says it, they're usually a Strawman Political figure and this trope will not be in effect.)

    Plot-related reasons why torture might not be effective include:

    1. The character being tortured is so Badass or pain-resistant that they're able to hold out until rescued or the torturer gives up.
    2. The character being tortured has a prepared lie that will take just enough time to check out that the real plan can go ahead while the torturer is distracted.
    3. The torturer is inept and asks the wrong questions, or allows Exact Words to mask the truth.
    4. The victim of the torture is an innocent person who doesn't know anything, and only tells the torturer what they want to hear to make the pain stop. Note that this is not an instance of ineffective torture if the torturers simply want someone to confess.

    Contrast Torture Always Works, where the techniques are effective; Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, where torture is effective enough and justified by time pressures; Torture First Ask Questions Later where the ineffectiveness of the torture is down to an overeager torturer; and Torture For Fun And Information where the effectiveness of the torture is secondary to the torturer's enjoyment of the procedure.

  • March 9, 2013
    AmyGdala
    Better, but we should just call it Failed Torture or something. This is not about how torture never works. This is about those cases where it doesn't work.
  • March 9, 2013
    McKathlin
    The proposed rewrite is good. I second calling it Failed Torture.
  • March 9, 2013
    McKathlin
    Proposed laconic: When torture doesn't work.
  • March 10, 2013
    SKJAM
    Okay, have now imposed rewritten description with much less flamebait, and updated the examples. Anyone got examples from categories other than literature and live TV?
  • March 10, 2013
    captainpat
    Please replace the numbers with bullet points. It helps avoid type labels.
  • March 10, 2013
    Chabal2
    Ciaphas Cain (and by extension Warhammer 40 K) has Slaaneshi cultits. Slaanesh is the god/dess of excess, so hir devotees enjoy pain as much as they do pleasure (Cain makes a comment about how useless it is to torture a masochist). In a later instance, he doesn't even need to break out the torture, the guy starts squealing at the mention of the Inquisition (to the disappointment of the Arbites with Cain, who'd hoped to indulge in some old-fashioned Police Brutality).
  • March 10, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    How is this anything but an aversion of Torture Always Works? And that not being a universal trope, how is it worthwhile to note these examples on the wiki at all?
  • March 10, 2013
    Hodor
    I had a question. I'm familiar with some works wherein torture is conducted expressly for the purpose of getting a desired (false) confession, and wondered if this would count for this or Torture Always Works- the extension of torture only giving you what you want to hear is that torture is great if you want someone to tell you what you want to hear.

    I also kind of wondered about classifying instances of torture in Warbreaker- the depiction seems to be that torture works, but in order to do it, you have to be a really bad person with no qualms about going as far as necessary.
  • March 10, 2013
    McKathlin
    ^^^ The Slaaneshi cultists example falls squarely under Too Kinky To Torture, which this YKTTW's description should note is a subtrope of Torture Is Ineffective.
  • March 10, 2013
    TheOrangeCrush
    Arcades Sabboth, I think this trope is more about the Aesop of torture being wrong in works, as opposed to just cases where torture fails to extract useful information. That said I still feel like the description comes off as a tad preachy, though I can't put to any specific examples. That's just my takeaway.
  • March 11, 2013
    Chernoskill
    The Iron Maiden in Dungeon Keeper enjoys being tortured, so it has no effect on her beside making her even happier (whereas other creatures will lose happiness but gain motivation).

    However, I believe this specific example is already listed in another torture-related trope.
  • March 11, 2013
    AgProv
    In one of the Stainless Steel Rat sci-fi books by Harry Harrison, the Rat, Jim diGriz, is captured by implacable enemies who propose to use torture on him. Di Griz side-steps the torture by explaining to his captors that there is absolutely nothing a prisoner can do to prevent a suitably skilled and motivated interrogator from getting information from a captive - sooner or later the prisoner will break and all that resistance to interrogation will be painfully wasted. Instead, why don't we take the torture as read, and sit down with a cigarette and a cup of coffee and I'll tell you everything I know now? Let's cut out the middleman here and spare a lot of painfully wasted time. Alas, Di Griz gets tortured anyway, just to demonstrate to him how earnest his captives are.
  • March 11, 2013
    SKJAM
    @Hodor, the instances where "telling the torturers what they want to hear" is exactly the point would not count for this trope.

    @Arcades Sabboth, you have a point. I don't know if you saw this YKTTW earlier, but it started life as Complaining About Aesops You Dont Like, and the current version is trying to make it closer to something usable. Taking a look at the Torture Always Works page, it's a mess of subversions and aversions, so having this to sort it out a bit might be a good idea.

    @The Orange Crush, the OP seems to have abandoned this, so if you figure out where the remaining preachiness is, let us know (and perhaps suggest alternative wording.)
  • March 11, 2013
    MagBas
    ^One mess of aversions is something easy to resolve. The Averted Trope page says: "Even though There Is No Such Thing As Notability, averting is generally not an example for mentioning on a trope page, except for tropes that are so common that the list of aversions is actually shorter, such as Limited Wardrobe. The reason is that different people have different expectations. For example, say there is an action movie that does not have a single instance of Stuff Blowing Up. Just because you expect it does not mean that it was subverted or used in any manner. If it was not used, then it is not an example. We don't want to have to scroll through examples like:

    Averted in Harry Potter, where nothing like this ever happens. "

  • March 11, 2013
    robinjohnson
    That is a much, much better description now.

    I think Torture Doesn't Work is better than Torture Is Ineffective, if the apostrophe isn't too much trouble: it's slightly plainer English, and serves as a better counterpart to Torture Always Works.
  • March 11, 2013
    MokonaZero
    Real Life: Many members of terrorist organizations make sure their subordinates don't even know anything about the higher ups so that even if they're caught, they can't say anything valuable.
  • June 19, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • June 24, 2014
    robbulldog
    Literature
    • In the Tom Clancy novel The Sum Of All Fears, the terrorists who nuked the Super Bowl are captured by Clark and Chavez. Clark uses some Fingore on them to get information on their backer, and after holding out for a while, the terrorists finger the nation of Iran. The catch is that they had planned this as an attempted Xanatos Gambit, if the US does retaliate against Iran, they will have "made an enemy out of all Islam".
  • June 24, 2014
    robbulldog
    And a addition on the Star Trek example above, besides breaking Captain Picard, the Cardassians also wanted the Federation's defense plans for a disputed planet. Captain Picard had not been briefed on those plans, and therefore had no information to give up under torture.
  • June 24, 2014
    Quatic
    In The Dark Knight Batman pummels the Joker in the police interrogation room, but Joker who laughs it off because torture would never make him talk. He only tells Batman what Batman wants to hear because it amuses him to.
  • June 24, 2014
    Bisected8
  • September 5, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • The Mad Scientist Duran Duran tries to wrangle the secrets from the titular Barbarella using a machine called the Orgasmotron. After banging off the equivalent of a Beethoven piano concerto on the machine's controls, it falls apart from overuse. The madman is astonished that a woman can endure multiple orgasms. Surprise, surprise.
  • September 6, 2014
    StarSword
    Cleaned up the draft: quote formatting, namespaces.
  • October 14, 2014
    StarSword
    Fan Works:
    • In "Frostbite" a Breen first tries to get Commander Tess Phohl to talk by threatening to kill one of her noncoms, then tries a painstick. Neither has any effect whatsoever: The only thing of substance Tess says the whole time apart from name, rank, and serial number is that if Dalsh Ruul kills said noncom, Tess' captain will personally strangle him with his own intestines. None of the other members of the away team say anything, either, apart from Specialist Atti calling the Breen's mother a whore.

    Webcomics:
    • The Order Of The Stick: Redcloak tortures O'Chul for weeks to try and get information on the Snarl from him. O'Chul resists because A) he's a badass, and B) he sincerely doesn't know squat.
  • October 14, 2014
    SvartiKotturinn
    • The Dark Ones in Murderess fail to get any information from their prisoner Aucasis about her brother Hallwad's whereabouts. While it's likely she has no idea herself, she doesn't even give them false information to get them to leave her alone.
  • December 9, 2014
    StarSword
    This has been inactive since October. I'm taking it over.
  • December 11, 2014
    StarSword
    Hats? Examples? Description thoughts?
  • December 11, 2014
    FerrousFaucet
    Real Life example:

    • During the Salem witch trials in American history, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft. He refused to plead guilty or not guilty, and according to the laws of the time, someone who did not plead could not be tried. The solution was to torture the accused until they would plead, and the authorities began to place heavy boulders on Giles Corey, slowly crushing him to death. According to legend, he was in great pain for hours under the weight of several boulders, but the only words he would utter were, "more weight!" In the end, he died, but his refusal to plea meant the state could not take possession of Corey's property, allowing his children to inherit his estate.
  • December 12, 2014
    StarSword
    ^Threw in a note about The Crucible, which dramatized that in act III, and added.
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