Follow TV Tropes


Interrogated for Nothing

Go To

"I fear you speak upon the rack
Where men enforced do speak anything."

Our Hero has been captured. He's being asked questions, and has folded under Cold-Blooded Torture or Truth Serum. And then they ask what the plans are for something he doesn't know. Of course, they will believe he is somehow resisting, hiding that vital knowledge. So, the cruelty intensifies.

Harshly ironic, since our hero is suffering a great deal because his captors refuse to believe that he doesn't know anything. No, they are certain that if they just push him a bit further, he will crack and give them what they want.

Occasionally subverted, as the captor realizes the individual does not know anything and ceases the torture. But, if the captor is Evil or an Anti-Hero, the more frequent Double Subversion may come into play, where the captor keeps going even though the individual doesn't know anything. This may be a case of For the Evulz.

It should be noted that a problem with upping the torture is, if it works, the captured will tell his captors anything to make the torture stop, regardless of whether or not it's actually true. And some really, really inventive and plausible stories come out of them. A person who has nothing to spill will desperately try and find something, or make it up. This is why all evidence suggests that Torture Always Works is not Truth in Television. Torture First, Ask Questions Later is when the torturer forgot to even ask anything.

Subtrope of Torture Is Ineffective.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Ah! My Goddess, Urd, while in Lord of Terror mode, briefly tries to torture Keichii for information about the Ultimate Destruction Program. She quickly learns that all he knows about it is the fact that it exists.
  • Death Note has a variation, where L imprisons and interrogates Misa on completely accurate suspicions that she is the second Kira... unaware that, through a trick of the Note, all of her pertinent memories have been erased. This goes on for a month before the team convinces him to try something else. Referenced in a bit of Black Comedy later, Misa boasts that even if she's captured and tortured, she won't give up any information. L replies "Yes, I can attest to that."
  • Dragon Ball Z: In the Garlic Junior Saga, Vegeta beats up and kills a bunch of Frieza's mooks while demanding to know where Goku is. These mooks are out of the loop and have no idea who Goku is, let alone that he defeated Frieza. When Vegeta is eventually convinced by the last one, he kills him.
  • In Fairy Tail, Erza is captured and brutally interrogated (including Agony Beam) by Kyouka about Jellal's whereabouts. Although she would never betray him, she honestly has no idea where he is. Not that it matters to Kyouka, who considers the torture itself a fun pastime even if she can get nothing out of it and keeps going even when she makes it clear she knows Erza's telling the truth.
  • Near the end of Last Exile, Alex Rowe is given a Truth Serum by Delphine in order to obtain the information that she needs. It turns out that Alex never entrusted himself with the last piece of the poem, predicting the possibility of being captured and interrogated.
  • Maria no Danzai: As Kowase tries to torture Yashima by drowning her, repeatedly asking her why he can't find his videos on her phone, Yashima repeatedly answers that she doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. She really doesn't; the one who hacked Kowase's phone was Maria, and Kowase is acting based on a suspicion based on circumstantial evidence. Of course, since he's currently undergoing a Villainous Breakdown over Maria's blackmail, he's too desperate to get back control of his life to listen to Yashima and doesn't believe her.
  • Now and Then, Here and There: This happens to Shu during the first few episodes. Worse, Abelia is quite aware from the beginning that he doesn't know anything but is forced to keep torturing him, on King Hamdo's orders.
  • One Piece: When the Beast Pirates attack Zou while looking for Raizo, the Mink Tribe initially insists that they do not know anyone by that name, but allow the Beast Pirates to search the entire island if they want to. Jack, who is leading the Beast Pirates, has no patience for that and demands that Raizo be brought to him at once. Things escalate until, after four days of fighting, Jack breaks out a poison gas weapon to neutralize the Minks, allowing him to torture their leaders for Raizo's whereabouts. Even after mutilating and crucifying them, Inuarashi and Nekomamushi repeatedly swear to Jack that they do not know who Raizo is and that Jack is free to kill them if he really is there. Before Jack can continue torturing them, however, he is forced to leave Zou once he receives the news that Doflamingo has been arrested by the Marines and tries to mount a rescue. The trope is then subverted in the most epic fashion when it turns out that Raizo was in Zou all along, that he was hidden away and chained up so that he would not reveal himself, and that every man, woman and child in the Mink Tribe would sooner die than betray him or anyone from Wano Country's Kozuki Clan, of which Raizo is a retainer.

    Comic Books 
  • A strange variant once happened to Diabolik, when the Grey Ravens tried to get from him the hiding place of the Crown Jewels of Benglait they believed he had just stolen (Diabolik had in fact successfully broken in the place they were supposed to be held, only to find out they had been secretly moved in another place after the Grey Ravens tried and failed to steal them): Diabolik could not give them the jewels he had not stolen, but knowing they wouldn't believe him he didn't tell them, and took the torture for a while before 'breaking'... And luring them in a deathly trap.
  • In Supreme Power, Nighthawk interrogates a pimp at knifepoint about a recent string of disappearances. And by "knifepoint", we of course mean "the tip of the blade is touching the guy's eye"; before any questions are asked, the pimp desperately asks what happens if he really doesn't know anything. Nighthawk says he'll think he's holding out on him, gouge his eye out, and ultimately apologize profusely when it's obvious that he really doesn't know. The pimp turned out to have a tip after all, as luck would have it.
  • Les Tuniques Bleues: One story has the general staff call Blutch and Chesterfield, explain the battle plan to them, then send them out on a recon mission where they'll get captured (unbeknownst to the pair). Where Blutch immediately begins telling the rebels what they want to know, their commanding officer is suspicious and has Chesterfield interrogated instead. Chesterfield endures an unbelievable amount of torture until he finally cracks and gives a plan that has nothing to do with the one the generals had him memorize... and of course, turns to have been their real plan.
  • In a V for Vendetta bonus comic from the TPB, two Finger men do a prolonged interrogation of a suspect, then force him to walk around the ledge on the high rise building, which is virtually certain to lead to his death. After forcing the suspect outside, one asks the other if he really thinks the suspect actually has any connection to V. The second says no, but that he and his wife are having some killer fights at home and he needs to take it out on someone.

    Fan Works 
  • Danganronpa: Paradise Lost: Kenji Shima tortures Sumire Takemi in Chapter 4, thinking from an off-hand joke she made that she knows about Monaca Towa, who he suspects to be the mastermind. Upon realizing mid-interrogation that she doesn't know anything, he arranges for Goh to unknowingly kill her and get himself executed in his stead.
  • Shatter and Dropkick interrogate Bumblebee and torture Yang to try and get the location of the Ark in Chapter 4 of A Girl and Her Bike despite Bumblebee not knowing where the Ark is in the first place.
  • In Girls und Panzer: Hope Dies, Erika is abducted and tortured, with the hopes of getting her to confess to killing Miho. It turns out that the actual killer is Yukari, of all people.
  • Played for Drama in Introverted when an enemy posing as Naruto and Sakura's teacher tricks the latter into torturing the former. They tell Naruto that he's going to be subjected to a pain tolerance test, then falsely claim to Sakura that Naruto was responsible for ruining the mission that got her friend Ino killed.
  • Remnant Inferis: DOOM: The SDC kidnaps and tortures Team SSSN for information about the Doom Slayer, even though they had never met him and don't know anything about him.
  • Republic City Blues has Asami attempting to extract information out of a dying man, only to eventually realize he legitimately doesn't have the answers she wants.
    Korra: Asami, I... you don't have to do this. He either knows or he doesn't. You can't beat knowledge out of him that he doesn't even have.
  • In The Return-Remixed, DEAR does this to Molly Holly, thinking she's the one who has been helping train the Diva Army; it was Jazz. They interrogate her and refuse to believe her claims that she's just there to visit since WWE were appearing near her home in Minnesota. Victoria tries to break her by giving her a Traumatic Haircut, and it's pretty clear she's doing it more For the Evulz than anything else.
  • In the Firefly fic Salvage Mission, Jayne is tortured by the Alliance for information on Simon and River. When Mal tracks him down after he was sold into slavery, Jayne tells him he one upped them by pushing the stuff they wanted out of his mind. The torture and slavery had a harsh impact on his mind but he didn't betray anyone this time because he couldn't, he'd forgotten it.
  • Whispered Tribulation has Aizawa and his co-conspirators kidnap and interrogate Izuku under the belief that he was spying on U.A. for the League or some other villains. While this wasn't the case, Aizawa refuses to accept that he made a mistake, and the only thing preventing him from forcing a False Confession out of Izuku is Nedzu's intervention.
  • In White Devil of the Moon, two people are needlessly tortured for the same incident.
    • Nanoha's sister Miyuki was being interrogated on her sister's powers. Unfortunately for both Beryl and Miyuki, albeit in different ways, all of Nanoha's explanations of her magic went straight over her head. Of course, the torture was probably going to happen because Miyuki nicked Beryl's face during an escape attempt.
    • Nephrite was accused of bringing Miyuki to Beryl for an assassination attempt, and Beryl was trying to wring evidence of his duplicity from him. Unfortunately for him, he was completely loyal. He just didn't expect his hostage to be a Badass Normal.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Mentioned in Dr. Strangelove. When General Ripper is realizing he's about to be arrested for treason and tortured for the recall codes, he suddenly asks Mandrake if he's ever been tortured as a war prisoner. Mandrake explains that he was captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War II. When asked if he talked, he explains they didn't seem to want any information. Ripper kills himself shortly afterward. It's all funnier than it sounds.
  • The Empire Strikes Back has Han Solo tortured by Darth Vader for no reason — Han explicitly says they didn't ask him any questions — apart from getting Luke to detect his suffering through the Force, and thus lure him into a trap by the Empire.
  • In Five Fingers, a piano player travels to Morocco for a performance and charity event, but gets kidnapped and brutally tortured by terrorists (and yes, he starts losing fingers) who insist that he's an undercover CIA agent.
  • The Foreigner (2017): When Ngoc Minh Quan's daughter is killed in a terrorist bombing by a group calling itself "the Authentic IRA", he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Because the politician Liam Hennessy is a former member of the original IRA, Quan continually attacks him, thinking he is connected with the bombers and demanding their names. However, Hennessy honestly doesn't know who they are and is in fact investigating them to try to bring them to justice, and Quan's attacks keep disrupting his investigation. It turns out Quan was Right for the Wrong Reasons. Hennessy did know who the bombers were, because most of them are his old friends and mistress, and his wife is their leader. Hennessy is completely horrified when he finds out.
  • Ichi the Killer: A horrific torture scene occurs when the sadomasochistic Yakuza Kakihara is led to believe that a Yakuza from another gang is responsible for the disappearance of his boss. The man is completely innocent, but the gruesome damage is done by the time they realize it.
  • The James Bond franchise has been known to do this on occasion, most notably in the opening theme of Die Another Day. During that theme, Bond is put through a who's who of torture methods, and it's later revealed that he was intentionally given an incomplete briefing by MI6 for his mission, just in case he was captured. They do trade someone important for his return though, which he never expected to happen, and calls them out on.
  • Marathon Man: What the Nazi dentist played by Sir Laurence Olivier does to Dustin Hoffman ("Is it safe?"). The actual scene is brief, and the torture rendered mostly by implication; but it is still arguably the most chilling example of this trope in cinematic history.
  • This is the whole point of the film Rendition; they bagged the wrong El-Ibrahimi. They're torturing an innocent man. It's also based on a true story.
  • A version of this is the focus of Slumdog Millionaire, where Jamal is tortured to find out how he cheated at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. At his repeated insistence, the two cops eventually acknowledge that he might be telling the truth about not cheating a few hours in. After they stop torturing him and interrogate him somewhat more civilly, Jamal tells them, in the form of flashbacks to his life story, exactly how he was able to get each answer right.
  • In To End All Wars, Yanker is viciously beaten with a shovel after one goes missing and he admits to taking it to keep everyone else from getting killed. It isn't till after he's paralyzed that the commander discovers that there was just a miscount and none of the shovels are missing after all.
  • In Underworld: Blood Wars, Marius beats up Selene and demands to know where her daughter Eve is, wanting her blood to become more powerful, but Eve left without telling Selene where she went. He is finally convinced Selene doesn't know when Alexia drinks her blood to read her memories.

  • Flashman and the Mountain of Light: An ironic variant in the Sikh high command captured Flashman and, Dirty Coward that he is, he told them everything before they even showed him the torture instruments. Which convinced them, since they believed his reputation, that he was concealing information of great importance, because no one as heroic as the great Flashman would spill the secrets so readily unless giving out false information was worth seeming like a coward. One of the Sikhs had tears of admiration in his eyes as he told Flashman they were going to torture him until he gave them the "truth."
  • The climax of Foucault's Pendulum involves a group interrogating the hero about a plan. Not only does the hero not know the plan, it doesn't even exist.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Friday. The title character voluntarily spills her guts to her interrogators, which is standard policy for her organization as a highly trained courier is far more important than any piece of information they may be carrying at one time. As her boss knows anyone will eventually crack, he deliberately withholds information about anything important. After questioning her under Truth Serum and getting the same story, they decide she's been hypnotically conditioned to tell false information, and ruthlessly torture and rape her. The interrogators end up respecting their victim as the only person they couldn't crack under torture. (She thinks they are complete idiots.)
  • Harry Potter:
    • This was the fate of Neville's parents in the backstory. After Voldemort's fall from power, some of the remaining Death Eaters captured and tortured them out of the belief they knew what had happened to him.
    • In Deathly Hallows, the heroes are captured along with Gryffindor's sword - which Bellatrix Lestrange (falsely) believes is inside her vault at Gringotts. She tries to torture the truth out of Hermione, who hasn't been anywhere near Gringotts. She even admits as much, and dupes Bellatrix into thinking the sword is a fake. Bellatrix's actions also end up cluing Harry to the realization that one of Voldemort's Horcruxes are in her vault.
  • The Medieval Italian poem Infelix Ego (Unhappy Me) by Girolamo Savonarola in 1498 is a prayer by a priest asking forgiveness from God for making a false confession of hearsay under torture. It swept Italy at the time and got a gorgeous musical setting — not least because the implication, that he was innocent after all, was so subversive.
  • In one of the Mike Hammer novels, the private eye is tortured by gangsters for the location of the MacGuffin (microfilmed documents used for blackmail). Mike doesn't realise he has them, or even what the MacGuffin is, while the crime boss refuses to explain what he's looking for because the mooks doing the torturing might hear; he just assumes Mike has them and proceeds accordingly.
  • In The Princess Bride, Humperdinck and Rugen torture Westley for weeks about for the name of the Guilder official who commissioned the abduction of Princess Buttercup. Not only would Westley not know this information as he was not the kidnapper, the information didn't exist at all, as Guilder wasn't involved. And Humperdinck knew this, as he was the one who had ordered the kidnapping.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Queen Regent Cersei Lannister has a singer tortured to make him 'confess' that he slept with Margaret Tyrell, her rival for power. His eventual confession accuses so many people of sleeping with Margaery that Cersai has to 'encourage' him to remove the more politically useful ones. Ironically, when the case against Margaery collapses because one of the other people accused of sleeping with Margaery seems to be confessing this, but he's actually confessing he slept with Cersei, the singer is the only one to stick to his story while being tortured again by the Faith — it's implied that the torture has driven him insane.
  • The Star Kings duology by Edmond Hamilton has the main character subjected to a Mind Probe to get details about a superweapon. Twice. The first time, it fails because he is not the man the villain was looking for (they switched bodies). The second time, the aliens probing him are actually aware he's not the right person — but they do know he had to use the weapon, so they probe him for details of its workings. They even resort to a Mind Meld when a normal probing fails to show any details. Since all the hero knows is which buttons to push, all it does is reveal the location of their fleet.
  • Star Wars Legends: In a short story, Corran Horn helps a group of rebel sympathizers escape an Imperial Prefect, while simultaneously framing the man for rebel sympathies and murder. Horn's thick-skulled Imperial liaison (when he was still working for CorSec) takes the overseer away for an interrogation session, with the innocent man mentally remarking how bitterly hilarious it is that he will be tortured endlessly for information that he doesn't have.
  • Tim Dorsey's novel The Stingray Shuffle: a gang of Russian former intelligence operatives turned drug smugglers kidnap an insurance adjuster and threaten to torture and execute him if he doesn't talk. He swears he doesn't know anything, and their leader orders them to break into the insurance office. When he complains aloud that he can't find a certain file, the adjuster speaks up and tells him exactly where to find it, and fills gaps in the file with information that was published in the newspapers at the time. The leader asks him, incredulously, why he didn't say any of this earlier; the adjuster, equally incredulous, says that the rest of the "squad" (who are certifiable morons) just kept saying, "tell us what you know!" without asking any kind of specific questions.
  • In the third and fourth Tennis Shoe Adventure books, Garth is captured by the current Big Bad (King Jacob) who wants the location of a fabled treasure. Garth was looking for the treasure, but never found it. King Jacob doesn't believe this, so he goes after Garth's family, finally kidnapping one of his nieces. Her torture, apparent death and subsequent recovery and a Heroic BSoD follow. Eventually, King Jacob realizes that Garth doesn't know, and leaves.
  • The Terrorizers: Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novel. Secret agent/assassin Matt Helm is captured by the enemy, who torture him to find out vital information. Unfortunately he has amnesia, so he can't tell them anything. They think he's faking and continue the torment.
    • In another novel Matt Helm is busy being interrogated with a soldering iron and is busy cursing the fact that his interrogator is a stupid amateur. Because if his captor were a professional Helm could just spill his guts right away (as he has permission to do when necessary) but an amateur won't believe that he's actually 'cracked' without a big dramatic show of resistance first and would just keep going no matter what he said.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: In Ethan of Athos, Ethan is captured and questioned by the Cetagandans about the location of Terrance Cee, first using a truth serum, and then upping the ante to more and more painful methods. Since this is the first Ethan's ever heard of Terrance, he tells them he doesn't know who they're talking about, right from the beginning.
  • Subverted (or maybe zig-zagged) in Sartre's short story "The Wall". The protagonist/narrator is told that he will be shot at dawn if he does not give up the location of Ramon Gris. He knows where Gris is, but gives them the wrong information, saying he's in the cemetary. He does it more to be a smart ass and make fools of his captors than anything. They don't kill him, because they actually find Gris in the cemetary. The protagonist didn't know Gris had gone there.
  • In Dennis Jones' Warsaw Concerto a woman is subjected to three days of interrogation under Electric Torture by the KGB, who fear that she intended to reveal details of a coup. She dies from her torture.
  • Wilt: Under low-level police torture designed to get him to crack and confess to murdering his wife, Henry Wilt realises his only way out is to confess, but make it sound so wildly ridiculous and unbelievable that it would be laughed out of court.note  He therefore comes up with a plausible story about getting rid of her corpse at the local meat pie factory.
  • Mark Smeaton in Wolf Hall. Cromwell knows he didn't really sleep with Anne Boleyn, but, well, he doesn't like his face. (And he was part of the masque that insulted the memory of his recently deceased master. That too.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 had at least two victims, a CTU analyst and the Secretary of Defense's son, who the good guys torture to no avail.
  • Altered Carbon: Takeshi is captured and put into a Virtual Reality world where his captors can torture and resurrect him endlessly, wanting to know who he is and why he killed their boss. Takeshi himself has no idea, since he thought he was a random mugger. Takeshi only manages to escape by mentally stopping his heart.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): In "A Measure of Salvation," Baltar is falsely accused of luring the Cylon Fleet into a trap and tortured for information about it. Played With in that, while he sent the Cylons there in good faith and didn't know of any danger to them, he somewhat cast suspicion on himself by trying to hide evidence of what killed the afflicted ship when he thought it might make him look guilty; when the evidence was found anyway, it looked like he'd planned the whole thing. He spends most of the episode enduring Electric Torture, unable to persuade anyone that he isn't conspiring against them.
  • Burn Notice: In the first season, a hitman comes after Michael, who figures out that the assassin has a peanut allergy and gets the drop on him by putting crushed peanuts on his dinner, then stealing his Epi-pen, and demanding information on the burn notice. The assassin insists he doesn't know anything and Michael is forced to administer the injection when he passes out, then somebody strangles him in his holding cell.
  • Forever: In "The Last Death of Henry Morgan," Henry and the detectives find a man who's been tortured to death, his body still warm, meaning the killer may still be nearby. As the police sweep the building, Adam reveals himself to Henry and tells him that he did this to the man trying to find his pugio; the man didn't have it, but Adam hadn't believed him so he tortured him to try to get information the man didn't have.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The Tickler asks Gendry the same questions as the other prisoners ("Is there gold in the village? Where is the Brotherhood?") even though he is not from the village and has never heard of the Brotherhood.
    • Theon tells lies, half-truths, and then the truth to appease his tormentors, but they soon admit they are just torturing him because they enjoy it.
  • Haven:
    • In "301", Audrey Parker and an old woman are kidnapped and brutally interrogated by a menacing, silhouetted man about the Colorado Kid case from 27 years ago. Audrey's memories from that time period have been erased, and the old woman simply can't remember that far back.
    • In "William", two thugs kidnap Dwight and demand to know where their box is, but he has no idea and for some reason, they refuse to describe the box.
  • Hunter (1984). In "Death Machine", a sleazy businessman is robbed of a fortune in jewels, so he pays a Psycho for Hire (the titular Death Machine) to get them back. Death Machine tortures to death various fences who have no idea who did the crime as the robbers were a couple of amateurs, as shown when they try selling the jewels at a legitimate jewelry store whose owners call the police.
  • Lost: Sayid tortures Sawyer because he and Jack think he stole Shannon's inhalers. Only after shoving sticks of bamboo up under his finger nails for a few agonizing minutes does Sayid learn that Sawyer never had the inhalers in the first place, and was being so stubborn just so he could get a kiss from Kate.
  • In Monk episode "Monk Goes to the Dentist", a dentist and his assistant who stole bearer bonds from a criminal and then killed him kidnapped Adrian and strapped him down in the dental chair before torturing him into answering their questions if the police were monitoring their buyer for the bonds. Unfortunately, Monk doesn't know what they're talking about, meaning poor Monk is put through an entire ordeal that only exacerbates his already crippling fear of dentists. What's more, the police didn't even suspect the dentist and his assistantnote  so they only end up incriminating themselves.
  • NCIS. An episode that saw one of Director Vance's personal friends be killed saw the director himself interrogate the man's stepson, psychologically torturing the young man in his quest for "justice," even slamming an axe into the interrogation table in anger. The kid breaks down, claiming he wanted his stepfather dead, and that he hated the man. In reality, while they did have a strained relationship, it was nowhere near that bad. The poor kid just wanted out.
  • On Rookie Blue Sam is tortured by a criminal who wants to know who killed the criminal's family and why the cops covered it up. Sam knew the guy's family was dead but had no knowledge of the rest. The criminal realizes that Sam probably knows nothing but decides to continue just to make sure.
  • In Roswell, towards the end of the first season Max is being held by evil government people who torture him into telling them various things. But then they want him to show them how to use some device that he has no clue how to work (or he'd have already used it), and start to cut him open when he doesn't.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode '"Off the Grid", the team is fleeing from some Lucian Alliance goons when the Stargate is suddenly teleported away. SG-1 is promptly taken captive and interrogated about the gate's location, even though, as they point out, if they were behind it, why would they make the gate disappear before they escaped through it?
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise, the Mirror Universe two-parter "In A Mirror Darkly" introduced the first agony booth prototype as a general disciplinary measure. At one point, when the paranoid mutineer Archer is convinced that Tucker has sabotaged the ship, he puts him in the booth and ignores Tucker's protests of innocence, growling "Break him!" before marching off to the bridge in a huff. Only later does it occur to Archer that Tucker is far too competent an engineer to go leaving obvious clues to his being a saboteur, and by that time Captain Forrest is well on his way to retaking control of the ship. Later yet, Tucker chews out T'Pol, telling her "I spent four hours in the booth!" It turns out he did sabotage the ship; but she's the actual saboteur because she was controlling him through a mind meld.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Picard refuses to give up the Minos Korva defense plans under truth serum. How? Because he has no idea what they are. His captor, Gul Madred, works it out eventually...and keeps going, switching his focus to simply breaking Picard for its own sake, via "How many lights do you see?"
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men", the American generals refuse to accept that the Ferengi are anything but ill-intentioned. Nog eventually figures out that the only way out is to tell them what they want to hear and use that to get the upper hand.
  • Supernatural
    • In the season 4 episode "On The Head Of A Pin" (S04, E16), the angels have captured Lilith's dragon Alistair and force Dean to use his knowledge of torture from his time spent in Hell for information about how the demons are killing angels. Alistair proves Too Kinky to Torture, however, and merely plays along because he's amused by the emotional trauma reliving his time in Hell is causing Dean. Dean's brother Sam is finally able to force Alistair to talk using his Psychic Powers, only to have him reveal... Nothing. Turns out, the demons weren't behind the murders after all — they were committed by a rogue angel intent on freeing Lucifer from Hell. An odd case in that it was the interrogator and not the victim who was suffering, but it still ended up being for nothing.
    • Castiel is tortured in season 9 and in season 11 for the same information — the location of the angel Metatron. Neither time does he actually know the information his torturers want.
  • The True Blood episode "Authority Always Wins", Bill and Eric are tortured by the Vampire Authority and ordered to reveal the plans, location, etc of the Sanguistion Movement. Bill says he has no idea what that is. Eric snarks that he tries to stay out of politics as much as possible. They are eventually convinced because they realize that Sanguistion members are fanatics who would not deny their involvement.
  • Yeralash has an episode about a boy first tortured and then shot for refusing to answer a single question: how much is 7*8.

  • In Fellowship of the Raven, Ireena succeeds in her gambit to make the Baron of Vallaki aware of her presence when she's being held captive in his house without his knowledge by her monstrous older brother Izek (for the second time, no less) but before she can get a word in edgewise he has her dragged down to his dungeon, beaten twice and then interrogated despite her telling him that that she'll talk willingly. And it turns out that what he's really after, mainly, information on his Arch-Enemy Lady Wachter, isn't something Ireena knows the slightest thing about, since she'd never even met the Lady. Then the Baron finds out that Ireena is actually the woman being pursued by Strahd von Zarovich, meaning he effectively just damaged Strahd's property, a realization that causes him to flat out panic and try to cover his ass, which fails spectacularly when Strahd arrives and he lies to try to pin her injuries on Izek. Strahd, naturally, sees through in an instant and proceeds to tear the Baron's heart straight out of his chest and feed his body to his vampire spawn. Stupid Evil doesn't even begin to describe it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons source book Book of Vile Darkness provides rules for torture, which provides a bonus on Intimidate checks made during interrogation. If the victim successfully resists or doesn't know any relevant information, he gets a bonus on Bluff checks to lie to the torturer. What's more, since the torturer is likely to believe Torture Always Works, they get a penalty to resist the Bluff checks. Unfortunately for the victim, the book notes that the torturer's likely to continue the process even once they get the information they're looking for.

    Theme Parks 
  • In the pre-show for Shrek 4D at Universal Studios, Lord Farquaad interrogates the guests themselves as to Shrek's whereabouts, even though from the perspective of the story, they don't know anything.

    Video Games 
  • Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea: Subverted. Elizabeth at one point falsely claims to have information that Fontaine desperately desires in order to get him to cut a deal with her. Eventually, things go sideways and Fontaine starts torturing her for it, but she genuinely doesn't know the info. But when he threatens to torture a Little Sister in Elizabeth's place, her previously defunct superpowers activate one last time to give her the information Fontaine's looking for, so she's able to save the girl.
  • Elden Ring: The description of the Black Dumpling item (a helm that's a shapeless and completely black head covering said to make the victim "acutely aware of all forms of pain", and in-game gives you a buff if you suffer from Madness) states that it's a torture device, but if the torturer is actually using it, then they no longer seek information and are simply causing suffering for its own sake.
  • In both Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake, the Shinra company captures and interrogates Aerith on where the Promised Land is. She has no idea where it is or if it's even real because she only knows of it from stories her mother Ifalna told her before she died.
  • Midway through Final Fantasy VIII, Seifer subjects Squall to Electric Torture, demanding to know the "true purpose" of SeeD, the mercenary organization which trained both of them. Squall not only doesn't know, he has no earthly idea what Seifer is even talking about, making his only options "make something up" or "try to get the interrogator to kill him."
  • In Mass Effect 2, Shepard and his/her squad come across a prisoner being brutally beaten by a guard while on a mission to pick up a convict from a prison ship. (Shepard has the option of convincing or intimidating the guard to stand down.) It isn't made clear whether the guards are looking for information or not, but speaking with another prisoner strongly implies the guards are just torturing him as punishment for 'offing' another prisoner, knowing full well he doesn't have anything to tell them. It's the Cowboy Cop who points out that it's just meaningless cruelty.
    Garrus Vakarian: You don't even get good information that way. After a point, victims admit to anything to make the pain stop.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda:
    • Several logs on the Archon's flagship have him interrogating captives, and killing several of them because they won't give the information he wants, which is completely at odds with reality.
    • A sidequest on Voeld has an angara interrogating a kett Chosen at length, having faked her death to do so. By the time Ryder finds her, she confesses that nothing has gotten the kett to say anything more than how it's in pain, since the kett obviously doesn't know what she's after, and she's too traumatised to accept this.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick does this, although actual torture isn't shown (though mentioned). Instead, Redcloak tells O-Chul that innocent people will be fed to the Snarl if he doesn't give up everything he knows about Girard's Gate. (And a control group will be thrown off the other side of the tower, to die normally. For Science!) Seeing that he remains silent, Redcloak has to concede that he really doesn't know anything. Explanation Also Played With: he admits to Jirix that he knew the torture wouldn't work, but was just using it to stall for time with Xykon. He seems honestly surprised about the Sadistic Choice's results, though.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: In "The Boiling Rock: Part 2," the prisoner who got caught attempting Sokka's prison escape tells the warden that his accomplice was one of the guards he had an issue with. The warden goes on to violently interrogate that guard to find out more information about the escape. Azula, of all people, arrives in the middle of the interview, watches the guard for a few seconds, and declares that he wasn't involved.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "No Speak Da Ed" , Ed receives some wolf-based trinkets from a pen pal. Unfortunately, Rolf recognizes them as being from his family's sworn enemy and becomes convinced that Ed is in league with him, captures the Eds, and tries to make Ed talk by dunking his head in oatmeal. However, not only does Ed not know what Rolf is talking aboutnote , but he's not even bothered by being dunked in oatmeal, even though it goes on for several hours. It all becomes moot anyway as it's revealed that the whole thing was a gag by Double-D's pen pal.
    Rolf: (Exhausted after hours of fruitlessly trying to make Ed talk) The Ed-boy's fortitude is to be admired.
    Ed: (Unfazed) Hi, Rolf!
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Party of One", Spike honestly has no idea what Pinkie wants to know during his interrogation, so simply tells her what she wants to hear. Ironically, he might have known or guessed about the surprise party Pinkie's friends are holding, so if she'd merely asked him what her friends were doing that afternoon, he might have been able to tell her, and avoid all of the unpleasantness.
  • In Rick and Morty, when Rick's conflict with the Galactic Federation comes into focus, and they get a lock on him, he ends up driving away with his family and assures them that the authorities now in question will grab them, hook their crotch to their equivalent to a car-battery "until you tell them where I am — which I guarantee you you're not gonna know, which I guarantee they won't believe".
  • In Robot Chicken the nerd accidentally nukes Canada (It Makes Sense in Context) and is water-boarded until the government official makes him say he's working for Pakistan.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Rebel Resolve", Kanan, who was captured at the end of the previous episode, is tortured by Tarkin and the Grand Inquisitor for information on Fulcrum and the larger rebel network. He doesn't break, but he can't tell them anything anyway because Hera has been deliberately keeping him and the rest of the crew in the dark just in case something like this happened. The Grand Inquisitor actually does mention that this is a possibility.
  • Steven Universe: Lapis Lazuli was a civilian caught in the crossfire of the Gem War and poofed. Homeworld gems found her, thought she was a Crystal Gem, and trapped her in a mirror in order to interrogate her, eventually forgetting her in their retreat, condemning her to millennia of And I Must Scream. Lapis was never a Crystal Gem and possessed none of the information the Homeworld gems wanted, and since the mirror only let her answer questions, she couldn't even claim she was their ally.
  • Superman: The Animated Series: In "In Brightest Day...", Abin Sur's spaceship crashes and he sends his Power Ring to find his successor before dying. When Superman finds his spaceship, Sinestro appears and thinking Superman was Abin's successor, demands the Power Ring and attacks him when Superman says he has no idea what he is talking about. After curb-stomping Superman, Sinestro searches his body and decides he was telling the truth after all.
  • Arcee's backstory in Transformers: Prime involved her being captured by Airachnid, who brutally tortured her in order to gain attack coordinates. When that failed, Airachnid threatened to kill Arcee's partner Tailgate unless Arcee gave her the coordinates. Unfortunately for Arcee, she genuinely didn't know the coordinates, leading to the loss of her partner when Airachnid refused to believe her.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003):
    • In the episode "The Way of Invisibility", Raphael is captured and grilled by Hun, who keeps subjecting him to questions such as "How long have you been on this planet?", weirding Raph out. At the end of the episode, Hun reports to Shredder that Raph, and by extension the Turtles, has no connection to the people Shredder is hunting.
    • Inverted in Splinter's backstory where Shredder and the Foot attacked and interrogated his master Yoshi for information on the people he was hunting, only for Yoshi to defiantly reply "He who lives without honor will end without honor". Thinking Yoshi knew nothing, Shredder killed him. Turns out that Yoshi had full knowledge of the Utroms and nobly said nothing as he took his knowledge to the grave with him.

    Real Life 
  • There's one story about a man tortured by the Khmer Rouge who told interrogators that he was The Pope, a hermaphrodite, and an American spy. As some have said, presumably the interrogators were feeling bored that day.
  • Up until the Nineteenth Century, people in Europe were often accused of witchcraft. The vast majority of the accused, believe it or not, were not witches. This did not stop the interrogators from torturing them in an attempt to gain a confession of witchcraft. In the event that the accused made no confessions, they were deemed to be obstinate and the level of torture was escalated until they either did confess, successfully accused someone else, or expired.
    • It's a pretty fair bet that in this case, they weren't just looking for an admission that yes, you were practicing dark magic; they were after a recantation, too. After which they'd probably kill you anyway, although in a much less harsh fashion than burning, in order to safeguard your soul from future temptations.
    • Not to mention that, if you were convicted, all your worldly possessions and wealth would become the property of the witch hunters, so there wasn't a lot of incentive to find you not guilty...
      • This was ironically enough one of the reasons why many Catholic clergymen turned against the Witch Hunts, as they often gave final confessions to accused 'witches' who tearfully admitted that they'd lied, even knowing they faced a horrible death, just to end the torture. Unfortunately the witch hunters (mostly laymen) ignored this with a "Just goes to show you, those bloody priests don't know how to handle these witches." Probably the first systematic critique of this was by Jesuit priest Father Frederic von Spee, who took confessions from many "witches".
      • In some cases, such torturing resulted in government and judicial officials being accused — which caused the whole system to break down.
      • This was also the reason for Giles Corey's famous Dying Moment of Awesome in the Salem witch trials — he was aware that no matter what he said, he would be tortured (unless he immediately pled guilty to spare himself the torture), found guilty, and his property would be forfeit. So he decided to give them nothing — not even a plea. Without a plea, the trial could not begin. Of course, he was tortured to coerce him into pleading something, and eventually died under torture without entering a plea, but since he hadn't been convicted of anything, his descendants could inherit his property.
    • This is still done today in witch hunts throughout the Third World, except when they go straight from accusation to the 'incredibly brutal execution' phase. Oh, and they very often kill most of your relatives too, just in case the witchcraft is hereditary.
      • There is again a profit motive — the victims are often poor people (e.g. old single women) killed when the family is too poor to afford their keep. It's a way to provide moral justification for putting your elders out in the snow, in the absence of snow. Shamans who claim to be able to cure witches do so by taking them in and paying for their keep until things get better and the person is 'cured' (rituals are involved, as well as paying for their keep).
  • In ancient Rome, slaves were always tortured if any testimony of theirs was needed for a trial. So even if they merely witnessed a crime, they would also have the truth tortured out of them. The amount of torture was usually consistent, no matter what answers they gave, which was actually an attempt to avoid this trope. They didn't want slaves to falsely incriminate themselves, so they tortured them all the same amount. Romans then believed that otherwise the slaves would simply say whatever their master ordered.