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Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

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Fisher: Pick a number between one and ten.
Mook: Oh crap! Uh... three!
Fisher: Lucky guess. You get to live. Now tell me something useful or we'll play another round.

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 as 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, is 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 about the same. Compare Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, Interrogation by Vandalism, and Torture Always Works. See also Artistic License – Law Enforcement, We Have Ways of Making You Talk, Maximum Fun Chamber.

For those who don't see any distinction between "Enhanced Interrogation" and plain old torture, see Distinction Without a Difference, Insistent Terminology, and "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word.


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    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • New Avengers (2015): John Garrett tells Songbird SHIELD would never stoop so low as to torture people. No, what he's about to subject her to is just "enhanced interrogation"; holding a gun to her head to test a lie detector.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • The Alliance guards running the prison camp do this to Wash in the Firefly fic “The Losing Side”. They don’t get physical but they yell at him, tell him what they’ll do to him, leave him tied to a chair in a room overnight after telling him and at one point, throw him in solitary confinement for a bit. Wash being Wash, he can’t take it and talks, then struggles with guilt afterward. Mal tells him that torture is torture whether it left physical marks or not.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 nameplate 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 threatening to let Big Boy hear it.)
  • 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 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 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).
  • Ghosts of Tomorrow: When Griffin interrogates Riina in virtual reality, he has the system administrator turn up Riina's perceptions so high that he can't even move without feeling like his clothes are scraping his skin off, then turn off his ability to pass out, dissociate, try to escape, or even have facial expressions. Then he threatens to grab Riina's hand and squeeze as hard as he can. Riina quickly tells him everything he wants to know.
  • In A Gift From Earth, by Larry Niven, the authorities don't use physical torture because it would ruin the suspect's use of the body banks. Instead, they use sensory deprivation.
  • The Department of Homeland Security uses several, including the "simulated drowning" mentioned below, on teenagers in the book Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
  • 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.
  • Although he doesn't use the precise term "enhanced interrogation techniques", the trope is used in a definite Does This Remind You of Anything? way by Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall. Cromwell eschews torture for both moral and pragmatic reasons, but his preferred methods of eliciting confessions both true and false involve the use of sleep and food deprivation, placing someone in a dark room and exposing them to unfamiliar lights and sounds, and (usually implicit) threats of Cold-Blooded Torture. The text heavily suggests that these methods are not at all morally superior to physical torture and that Cromwell knows this, but is in denial.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alex Rider (2020): Shortly after agreeing to work for Blunt, Alex is kidnapped by a paramilitary group who interrogates him about his uncle's work and Point Blanc. When he doesn't answer, he's subjected to bright lights and very loud death metal, being soaked, and threats to his loved ones. He escapes, and the whole thing turns out to be a Secret Test of Character by Blunt. It actually leaves him well-prepared to resist another interrogation later when Dr. Greif finds out he's a spy and subjects him to Truth Serum.
    Alex: Turn up the music! What's next, the water? It doesn't matter, I can always get paperclips! [Sings chorus to Jake Bugg's Seen It All]
  • 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 airlocks.
    • 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.
    • The gang actually plan on waterboarding Dee and Dennis' biological father afterward. Except they had the wrong address.
  • 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".
  • In one episode of NCIS, Gibbs brings a perp down to Ducky to have him demonstrate a live autopsy for their guest. The suspect is deeply uncomfortable with watching Ducky open a human corpse to begin removing organs with the subtle hint that this will be his fate if he doesn't cooperate.
  • In NUMB3RS, Megan Reeves is forced to temporarily leave the team and take a "special assignment" despite attempting to decline, and seems subdued and out of sorts upon her return. She eventually admits (after Colby guesses as much) that her assignment involved advising on these sorts of interrogations. Her horror and disgust at this are a major factor in her decision to quit the FBI a season later.
  • There is at least one example in 24 (which would otherwise use the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique instead). On 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 Aesop in Burn Notice that physical torture never works. 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 devises 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 instance, in the episode "Do No Harm":
    • Sam breaks a con artist by cutting his own thumb with a very sharp knife, dripping the blood all over the con artist, all while talking about what he'll do to the guy.
      Michael: (voice over) There's a saying in interrogation: "Violence perceived is violence achieved." You don't want someone screaming, you want him asking questions. Asking, "What is he doing with that knife?" Asking, "If he'll do that to himself, what will he do to me?" Mostly, you want him asking, "How do I make this stop?"
    • Later during the same interrogation, Sam has two con artists tied up and blindfolded, and throws one uncooperative captive out of a window to convince the remaining 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 the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Babel", after more socially acceptable methods get her nowhere, Major Kira enlists the help of the only scientist who knows anything about the aphasia virus by deliberately exposing him to it and telling him that he can either help them cure it or die with everyone else.
  • The Barrier is set in Police State that practices the casual Police Brutality that usually part of such states. Interrogation rooms are no exception.

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    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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 gunpoint, 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 XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you are allowed, and even required, to interrogate captured aliens. The reports from the lab division make it clear 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 for the face of possible extinction). Although it's stated that the interrogations are less a series of questions but more forcing electrodes into its brain to administer painful stimulation for the purpose of reading the alien's brain waves since the invaders either can't or won't talk.
    • One mission in the expansion Enemy Within implies that they do this to a human EXALT agent in the aftermath. The rest of them carry a Cyanide Pill (or rather, syringe) to avoid the same fate.
    • This was also present but obfuscated in the original game, X-COM: UFO Defense: the interrogations reveal information about the alien plans and society, as well as giving you information on the alien species you just interrogated that you can't get from an autopsy, but never mentions what happens to the alien you questioned. However, your general stores will show that you now have one more alien corpse than you did before.

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    Western Animation 
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Feat of Clay: Part 2", Batman uses a minion's phobia of germs to extract information by threatening to drop a jar containing a liquid culture of a disease on the minion's head. It's a bluff, the jar merely containing a sample of completely ordinary seawater, but the fear it causes is as real as if the jar actually had contained deadly germs.
  • In the Justice League episode "The Once and Future Thing: Time, Warped" 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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 Perp Sweating 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 (1998), 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.

    Real Life 
  • Christopher Hitchens discounted waterboarding as a form of torture during The War on Terror, arguing that it was a morally necessary form of Enhanced Interrogation. Then he volunteered to experience it firsthand For Science! It took only a few seconds for him to invoke a Safe Word, after which he wrote an article admitting that he was wrong.
    Christopher Hitchens: I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: 'If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.' Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.


Video Example(s):


"Where is Mordor?"

Robot Chicken does the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques version with the nerd, who's being questioned as to the location of Mordor. He breaks after a few moments, outright asking them what they want him to say.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / TwoPlusTortureMakesFive

Media sources: