Fisher: Pick a number between one and ten.Practices that are defined as torture by long-held standards and international law, but are not regarded as torture by the characters or the audience. This is done because Torture Always Works, but it would be unbecoming for our heroes to get their hands dirty with a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. So instead, they use alternative techniques, usually psychological. They make death threats, point around loaded guns, and use things like sleep deprivation. Beatings may or may not apply depending on how they're depicted. And sometimes, the tortures may be exacted on someone else. Also popular is the threat to turn the prisoner into the custody of some ally who does not have the same inhibitions against Cold-Blooded Torture. The most common, though, are probably the Dramatic Gun Cock and High-Altitude Interrogation. Named for the euphemism used by both the U.S. Government for forms of torture that don't leave marks or cause organ failure, and for Verschärfte Vernehmung, which is what the Nazis called it when they did it and which translates to the same. Compare Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, Interrogation by Vandalism, and Torture Always Works. See also We Have Ways of Making You Talk, Maximum Fun Chamber.
Mook: Oh crap! Uh... three!
Fisher: Lucky guess. You get to live. Now tell me something useful or we'll play another round.
Mook: Oh crap! Uh... three!
Fisher: Lucky guess. You get to live. Now tell me something useful or we'll play another round.
open/close all folders
- L of Death Note occasionally uses things like this against the Serial Killers Light and Misa, though it's usually rather ambiguous and falls somewhere between this, Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, and Cold-Blooded Torture, easily cementing the series' Grey and Grey Morality; all Light does is kill you, after all, but L has other ways of fighting his (futile) battles. They have the same motives, though.
- In an issue of Batgirl, Robin convinced the mad scientist du jour to hand over the antidote for his latest chemical warfare toxin by pretending to expose him to it. Turns out that a particular brand of diet soda looked remarkably like the scientist's formula in solution...
- Batman himself has been known to use threats and the like to get what he wants. Since most criminals are terrified of him, this tends to work pretty well. Interestingly, despite being the poster boy for gritty, no nonsense characters, he was not known for actually torturing crooks - the vague threats were more than enough... until the Darker and Edgier remake movies, when he is perfectly willing to throw a mobster off a fire escape in order to break his legs.
Maroni: From one professional to another, if you're trying to scare someone, pick a better spot. From this height the fall wouldn't kill me.Batman: I'm counting on it.
- In an issue of Secret Avengers, Hill threatens to waterboard a terrorist. When he says that it would be torture, she replies:
Hill: Don't you watch the news? Waterboarding's not torture. It's an advanced interrogation technique.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Faramir has Gollum beaten. This is averted in that book – Faramir makes the distinct choice NOT to force information from him.
- Will Smith's character in Wild Wild West uses the Dramatic Gun Cock to force an impostor to reveal himself. The scene is played for laughs. To be fair, it's a dude impersonating the president who has failed to answer several direct questions about who he is.
- In The Dark Knight, Harvey captures Thomas Schiff, one of the Honor Guard the Joker hired to help kill the Mayor, after seeing him wearing a name plate that reads Rachel Dawes. He takes Schiff to an alley, ties him to a chair, shoots a gun into a nearby dumpster to prove he isn't joking, and flips a coin. Tails, and Schiff would die if Schiff didn't start talking. The coin was double-headed.
- Zigzagged in Dick Tracy. When Tracy interrogates Mumbles, he tempts him with water drawn from a fancy cooler, knowing that Mumbles is thirsty. Eventually, Mumbles blurts out something that seems as incomprehensible as anything else he says, but Tracy accepts that as a statement. Much later in the film, after Tracy has been framed for murder, he again confronts Mumbles with the water cooler, which had a recorder hidden inside; he's then able to slow down the recording to get Mumbles' clearly heard confession, fingering Big Boy Caprice in Lips Manlis' murder. (This would have been inadmissible evidence the first time, but now that Tracy is himself under arrest and doing this without a superior's knowledge, he is able to find out who set him up by threating to let Big Boy hear it.)
- In The Cardinal of the Kremlin, the KGB uses sensory deprivation to break an agent for the CIA, but they're not able to use it on the titular mole, due to his advanced age and underlying health problems. They use Gaslighting instead, which actually reinforces his will to resist. Then they discover his weakness, and break him in seconds. In fact, the KGB interrogation techniques can barely be called torture at all (though the sensory deprivation is at least psychological torture).
- The Department of Homeland Security uses several, including the "simulated drowning" mentioned below, on teenagers in the book Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
- In A Gift From Earth, by Larry Niven, the authorities don't use physical torture because it would ruin the suspect's use to the body banks. Instead, they use sensory deprivation.
- In Patrick Robinson's USS Seawolf, PLA soldiers resort to, among other things, beating The Captain and waterboarding his executive officer (who happens to be the President's son) to elicit info on the titular submarine.
- In The Lord of the Rings Gollum is tortured by Aragorn and Sauron. (And possibly Gandalf. This one is debatable, but you can read it that way.)
Gandalf: ...time was pressing. In the end, I had to put the fear of fire in him...
- In Night Watch, Vimes is flung to the past where Police Brutality is scientific, thanks to Captain Swing's system of "craniometrics". Dr. Lawn mentions that one prisoner wound up with fingers pointing entirely the wrong way. When Vimes and his men invade Swing's headquarters, they find a simple chair next to a rack of hammers... oh, and then there's the ginger-beer trick. Vimes fakes this one to terrify a confession out of a suspect, and later terrifies a clerk with a long metal ruler, and his own desk drawer.
- Averted in Victoria: when the heroes have to torture enemy agents for information, they're honest with themselves and call what they do by its right name.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003) likes this one, particularly the episode "Taking a Break From All Your Worries," including a particularly memorable scene involving the ever-present threat of airlocking.
- Made even more memorable because President Roslin comes in and berates Starbuck that the Cylon she is interrogating is still a person, she speaks kindly to him and offers the forgiveness and friendship of humanity... and puts him out the airlock once his threat is exposed as false. "One does not keep defective machines".
- During an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank waterboards Dee in a urinal. His own daughter. And it's played for laughs.
- Dee and Dennis aren't actually Frank's children. Not that it would matter to him if they were.
- Lots of this in The '70s action show The Professionals.
- One episode of Over There dealt with a shadowy Special Forces officer forcing the unit to help him do this towards an insurgent.
- The focal point of the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Harm".
- There is at least one example in 24 (which would otherwise use the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique instead). In Day 8, Jack threatened a suicide bomber that if he kills himself, Jack will escort his mother to the detonation site, absorbing a lethal dose of Cs-137 in five seconds.
- Homeland has an interrogation scene after the prisoner has been deprived of sleep from sporadic Death Metal blasts.
- Leverage has an entire episode where these are the subject. Elliot, meanwhile, is more fond of Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique...and better at it
- It's a recurring point in Burn Notice that physical torture doesn't work. The show mentions, and even sometimes uses, "non-violent" methods that do break someone such as prolonged isolation, being subjected to loud noise for long periods of time, sleep deprivation, etc. In the end most of those methods take too long, so Michael and company devise clever ways to make a target either trust them or become completely terrified of them, usually without ever laying a hand on the subject. (For example, in one case Sam breaks a con artist by cutting himself open, dripping the blood all over the con artist, all while talking about what he'll do to the guy. It completely freaks the con artist out. As the narration puts it, at that point the thought process of the person being interrogated goes "If he's willing to do that to himself, what is he going to do to me?!")
- In the episode "Do No Harm", Michael throws one uncooperative captive out of a window to convince another one to talk. Unbeknownst to his partner, the first guy is perfectly safe — he was attached to a wire and hauled in through the window below.
- Averted in Hawaii Five-0, where McGarrett remembers coming to Guantanamo Bay and, against his superiors' wishes, treats a prisoner with respect, allowing him to pray, bringing him food (even apologizing for the food not being halal) and water. Eventually, it pays off, when the prisoner calls him years later and informs him of a terrorist plot in Honolulu. In the flashback, other guards claim that the prisoners are their enemies and should be treated as such, with one stating that they were able to use torture to obtain intel on two possible attacks. McGarrett counters by saying that tortured people will say anything to stop the torture, whether it's true or not. A little bit of respect goes a long way.
- In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, like the original, allows you to interrogate captured aliens. Unlike the original, the "interrogated" aliens don't survive the process. One of the characters later comments that he's shocked that the seemingly-benign Dr. Vahlen would go to these lengths (though everyone admits that, ghoulish and inhumane though the methods may be, they are necessary in the face of possible extinction). Although it's implied that the interrogations are less a series of questions but more painful stimulation to read the alien's brain waves.
- The first four Splinter Cells are infamous for Sam's wacky torture sequences, the majority of which involve him psyching out mooks. Holding them at knife- or gun-point, he then gets information by more psychological means; for example, in Chaos Theory, he reminds a mook they're on the 60th floor, before claiming you're conscious right until you hit the concrete.
Sam: Nice wheels. Think the trunk is big enough for a body?
Guard: Oh god! I'm not sure!
Sam: Tell me where Nedich is or we'll find out.
- In Homeworld, the cutscene for the third mission describes the results of an interrogation of a Taiidan frigate captain, captured in the orbit of the destroyed Kharak. After revealing to the player the information gleaned from the interrogation, the voiceover calmly states that the officer did not survive the interrogation. Considering that the Kushans have just witnessed their planet's destruction at the hands of the Taiidan, the outcome of the interrogation is understandable.
- In one episode of Batman: The Animated Series Batman used a minion's phobia about germs to extract information by threatening to drop a jar containing a liquid culture of a disease on the minion's head. It was a bluff, the jar merely containing a sample of completely ordinary seawater, but the fear it caused was as real as if the jar actually had contained deadly germs.
- Inverted in Metalocalypse with a scene of a teenage Dethklok fan being forced to listen to Dethklok's music at obscenely high volume as punishment for pirating the track on the internet; he suffers severe psychological damage and becomes a villain shortly afterward, and the torture scene isn't treated as anything but a torture scene. (Of course, for Metalocalypse, it's really par for the course.)
- In Justice League (with a crossover with Batman Beyond) the elderly Bruce Wayne pulls the captive Ghoul away from Batman (his younger self), who had been dangling the villain over the side of a building. "I can't believe I was ever that green," he scoffs. "This is how you interrogate someone." Wayne hefts his cane and advances toward Ghoul. One fade-to-black later, the villain has confessed not only to the organization and capabilities of the Jokerz, but to being a bed-wetter until he was fourteen.
- Shows up in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic of all shows. In "Party of One", Pinkie Pie goes insane when she thinks her friends ditched her party because they hate her. She lures Spike into her house/lair with gems and then interrogates him as brutally as an E/I show for kids will allow. Her pet gator grabs his tail to keep him from escaping, she shines a bright lamp on him in a pitch black room, and eventually she starts screaming at him and giving him a Death Glare while demanding that he confess. Spike (who had no idea what a Perp Sweat was in the first place) is so freaked out that he starts confessing random things. Finally Pinkie Pie snaps and demands that he confirm her suspicions that her friends hate her. Spike has no idea what she is talking about but confirms it anyway to get her to back off.
- In The Powerpuff Girls, the people of Townsville get Lenny Baxter to reveal where he has the girls by causing him to faint from the sight of kids removing the packaging from his collectibles.