First Prisoner: Death.
Sheriff of Nottingham: Torture him. (to second prisoner) What about you? Pain or death?
Second Prisoner: Uh, pain.
Sheriff of Nottingham: Torture him. You see? It makes no difference.
In the magical world of fiction, if torture isn't being just used to prove that the Big Bad is indeed big and bad (or that the Anti-Hero is indeed anti), it works as an instant source of 100% reliable information. The information extracted under torture is always accurate and important, even if the interrogator himself starts with no information at all and so has no way to know if the prisoner is telling the truth or lying. The possibility of having the wrong person, who will say anything under torture whether they know anything or not, will be excluded. Often as not, the victim is then released with no consequences to them if they lied.
The only times when torture doesn't work is when the tortured is just too badass to be broken, and doesn't say anything at all. When characters object to torture, they are often portrayed as weak liberal Strawmen who "don't have what it takes" or "don't realize what's at stake". They only make moral criticisms, and never bother to point out that it's unreliable, presumably because they too know that it Always Works. Even when it doesn't work, characters who should know better assume that it will.
In Real Life, as an interrogation technique for extracting actual usable intelligence, its efficacy varies wildly — some will tell the truth, others will lie either to spite their torturers or to take revenge on someone by casting them under suspicion to be tortured, others will clam up under poor treatment. It's also been found that because torture is so exhausting victims are sometimes unable to even remember the information their torturers want. Perhaps the greatest problem is that many people will say ANYTHING to make the torture stop. This means false confessions that resemble whatever sort of information the torturer wanted to get. For investigative purposes this result is basically useless but can make the torturer more confident in the technique since it appears to have worked. This plays into another issue which is that true statements may be ignored because the torturer knows what kind of information they expect to get. So the torture continues until the victim is able to come up with a sufficiently convincing lie. Indeed, the fact that people do lie when tortured into a confession is one reason why this isn't generally accepted evidence in courts.
Of course, if the purpose of the torture is merely to get a confession — any confession at all, rather than to extract information — as in, the purpose is not necessarily to actually find the true guilty party, but just to have someone, anyone, to fill role of the Fall Guy or The Scapegoat, then torture can be said to be quite effective indeed.
The most common form when used by villains is probably Electric Torture. When heroes torture their enemies, they usually use Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, because they Always Work but have a different title and are thus Not Torture.
- Played with in Vinland Saga. After catching an English spy, Askeladd takes a pair of shears to his fingers, one by one. The guy does eventually tell them what they want to know, but he holds out just long enough to hear that his reinforcements (led by the feared Thorkell the Tall) have arrived to attack Askeladd's men before he talks, which pretty much makes the whole torturing him thing moot, since Askeladd wanted to know what kind of reinforcements the spy might have. The torture victim laughs in their faces as Askeladd cuts off his head.
- In Darker Than Black, torture (or the threat thereof) tends to work on Contractors because, being emotionless, they have no emotional stake in their objectives and will spill the beans unless there's a rational reason not to. Of course, that means that a sufficiently good argument or bargain not involving the threat of force is just as effective, but Hei, who has a very un-Contractor personality at times, prefers torture.
Havoc: [Talking to Hei] If you've really established a Contract, you'd know better than anyone else. A Contractor's greatest priorities don't lie within the syndicate, nor in its priorities. It lies with himself. There's no merit in being tortured and remaining silent. You, for some reason, just can't seem to understand that.
- PandoraHearts subverts this in the first five minutes. Though the torture is mundane... the victim promptly gives quick information. Quick, and WRONG information!
- Bungo Stray Dogs:
- While conversing with an imprisoned Koyo Dazai reminds her that whenever he filled in for torturing during his days in the mafia, the person always broke without fail, causing Koyo to become terrified and comply before he can even start.
- As a teenager, Chuuya's preferred means of extracting information was to kick people until they told him what he wanted. However, Dazai points out his overly violent methods and tendency to flat out kill people is largely unnecessary, especially when just conversing with a target is easier and doesn't result in a bloody scene.
- In the Sherlock Holmes Deliver Us from Evil Series, this is played with when Holmes was kidnapped and tortured by Moriarty and his henchmen. It is averted that Holmes just barely avoided crossing over the Despair Event Horizon but when his rescuers found him, it was clear that he was pretty far gone.
- In Mindshattered of One Piece, the Big Bad Panaceam captures Zoro and brutally tortures him by beating him and starving him to near death for over a month. When that didn't work, he added poisons and drugs in Zoro's scarce food and water which finally forced him to talk. The guilt, horrific injuries and being riddled with the physical and emotional issues that comes with starvation, Zoro was a complete wreck by the time the crew found him.
- The Avengers has Invincible where Steve was captured and HYDRA tortures him, not to get information, but to break the Avengers and SHIELD's spirit by physically and emotionally shattering their leader. They nearly succeeded.
- Briefly discussed in You Obey. Torture is not a prefered means of acquiring information, and it's implied that its reliability is uncertain. The victim fails to give in, resulting in Mind Rape.
- In The Dragon King, when Hiccup gets captured on purpose as part of his plan, Hiccup is placed in a cell next to Astrid, Stoick, Snotlout and Spitelout, where he is then whipped repeatedly in order to get him to confess what information that he knows. He eventually cracks and confesses that Berk has assembled a fleet ready to attack them. The trope is then averted, as it is revealed that getting tortured was all a part of Hiccup's plan. While he seems to brush off his wounds fairly easily, it is clear that he was affected to some capacity, as he passes out after they escape the stronghold, along with a noticeable twitch whenever torture is mentioned.
- In The Matrix, Smith tortures Morpheus for the codes to Zion's mainframe. The fact that they've given him a digital truth serum that is hacking his mind does help.
- In Dirty Harry, San Francisco Police Department Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan presses down on the Scorpio killer's badly wounded leg (he was just shot with a .44 revolver) until he tells him where to find a girl he had kidnapped and left to suffocate. Naturally, he finds out where she is, only to discover that she has already died. The killer promptly walks away from the law by crying "police brutality", much to Harry's disgust. However, in fact there was more evidence they could have used against him than just his confession.
- In The Dark Knight, Batman uses it on a mob boss by dropping him from two stories up (conventional Batman interrogation techniques involve dangling the perp from twenty or thirty stories up until he talks) and breaking his legs. This works a bit better. Except it still doesn't work. The mob boss still doesn't tell him anything, because he's way more scared of the Joker than anything the Batman could do to him. This calls to mind earlier, when Batman had the Joker in custody, and Joker himself told Batman that he could wail on him all day, and he'd still never tell him anything until he decided he wanted to. This is in stark contrast to Batman's very effective use of torture in Batman Begins, who determines information about the growing conspiracy from crooked cop Flass, and finds out that Dr. Crane/Scarecrow is working for Ra's Al Ghul. This is part of the more mature theme of The Dark Knight.
- The Joker even gives the Batman tips on how to beat someone up while Batman is pounding him. Batman begins by slamming Joker's head against the table, which the Joker says is a poor way to start, since it makes the victim too dazed to feel any further injury. Which is immediately proven: Batman smashes Joker's hand, which Joker no-sells and says, "See?"
- Subverted in Transsiberian. Kolzak tortures Abby to find out where her boyfriend Carlos is. She legitimately doesn't know, however. He then tortures her in front of her acquaintances, Roy and Jessie, thinking that seeing Abby in agony will cause one of them to talk. Jessie, who know exactly where Carlos is dead, by her hand, is visibly disturbed during the scene. She breaks down, seems as though she's going to crack, and then lies again. Badly.
- The Punisher (2004): The Punisher hangs a guy from the ceiling in chains, tells him how he's going to take a blowtorch to the guy's back, and then explains that he'll be cooking the guy's back at such a high temperature that the nerves won't even get time to register the pain before dying, so all the guy will feel is cold. Frank then uses the blowtorch to cook a steak, (providing the sound and smell of sizzling meat) while running a popsicle up and down the guy's back. It works.
- The chief benefit of this is the fact that it's a complete psych out. That said, the film never explores how far Frank would actually have gone. By contrast, a later torture scene involving Quintin Glass and Frank's next door neighbor subverts the trope; Glass gets nothing, in spite of removing every piece of the man's extensive body piercings the hard way.
- Slightly ambiguous in A Clockwork Orange, but seems to indicate that even if torture did work, would that really justify its use?
- Subverted in The Passion of Joan of Arc. They drag Joan to the torture room but she simply explains to them the logic listed in the description above.
- In the movie Payback, Mel Gibson's character willingly submits to being tortured just so he could feed his torturers false information. (They wouldn't believe him if he just told them before the torture)
- Act of Valor deliberately subverts this. When a CIA agent is captured by the drug traffickers in the film, she is brutally tortured but utterly refuses to break under the pain. Later on, when Christo, the leader of the drug traffickers, is captured and questioned by Miller, the interrogation consists entirely of the two men sitting at a table and talking, with Miller simply laying out the reality of the situation: Christo will be going to prison, and unless he cooperates, he will likely never see freedom or his family again. Christo breaks immediately and tells them everything he knows.
- Zero Dark Thirty is a rendition of how Osama bin Laden was captured. Torture was involved in getting some of the information about his associates. This spurred a lot of controversy and accusations that the film is pro-torture. Yet torture is also clearly shown as ineffective in preventing an attack, as the prisoner is reduced to gibberish and any worthwhile information either came from non-torture interrogation and overlooked files, and the director said in an interview that the moral ambivalence of the use of torture was intentional.
- Discussed at length in The Battle of Algiers. Torture does work, as the French gain valuable information from it, but the movie depicts it as counterproductive by leading to backlash among the Algerian population and even the French public.
- Played with in Reservoir Dogs: At one point the crooks try to beat information about The Mole out of a cop they've taken prisoner, but when Nice Guy Eddie shows up he points out that this isn't a reliable technique. Of course, Mr. Blonde turns out to be an Ax-Crazy psychopath who just wants to torture a cop for no reason, so this ends up being moot.
Nice Guy Eddie: If you fucking beat this prick long enough, he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, now that don't necessarily make it fucking so!
- Averted in Goya's Ghosts. The father of a woman tortured into confessing to "Judaizing" (refusing pork, and thus supposedly indicating she secretly practices Judaism), brings the Inquisitor who arrested her home for dinner. He questions him on the effect of torture. The Inquisitor assures him that an innocent person will not confess falsely, because God would give them the strength to resist. The father and his sons then torture the Inquisitor into confessing he is a monkey, shaking his belief in the Spanish Inquisition's methods.
- Deadpool 2 features the variation of "the threat of torture always works". When Deadpool's friend, Weasel, is captured, Cable tells him he'll start by first bending something that is not meant to bend and he'll go on from there. Weasel tells him it won't be necessary to start bending anything, and tells Cable every detail of Deapool's plan to disrupt the mutant prisoner caravan, including how many people he recruited into his team "X-Froce," that he has an erection on account of how nervous he gets in intense situations, and that there is a high winds advisory.
- Lone Wolf features a rare example of a hero torturing information out of a villain in Book 18 Dawn of the Dragons. In the beginning of the adventure, Lone Wolf has the opportunity to interrogate a man who had been caught plotting to assassinate him. The gaoler offers Lone Wolf his torture tools (including hot coals) but Lone Wolf declines. Lone Wolf then proceeds to either Mind Control or Mind Rape the prisoner into telling him who wanted Lone Wolf dead. It works but then the prisoner uses the last of his willpower to bite into a trick tooth containing deadly poisonous gas.
- The Mord-Sith are an entire order of The Baronesses in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth. To be fair, they are long-term torturers, in that they "break" a target over weeks or months so that they want to obey their Mistress, who have been trained since girlhood. They're less a method of gaining information and more a method of making someone into a slave. Hell, they don't even ask any questions until they're sure that their victim is properly "trained."
- The grimmest part of the whole scenario is that Mord-Sith start out as kind, gentle girls and are systematically tortured and broken until they are ready, willing, and able to do it to others.
- Subverted, however, when one tries to question a Mord-Sith. The books show two attempts and both have failed (including a Room 101 one).
- In Flight of the Nighthawks the protagonists torture an assassin for information about his organization's base. However, they only need him to think about it, as they have a mind reader among the interrogators. It still takes days.
- From Tom Kratman's Carrera's Legions series:
- In Carnifex, the Aesop is that torture works if you're both clever enough and ruthless enough about it.
- Both subverted and played straight later in the series. A corrupt UN-Earth Admiral makes it clear that under torture a man will say anything. However, the terrorist chief who has captured him reminds him that this includes the truth. Extra points are awarded when the Legion tricks an Amnesty Interplanetary investigator into taping them brutally interrogating several prisoners with mock hangings and blow torches, then storming into her press conference to reveal that everyone in her tape was actually a Legionary soldier and the whole thing was one big set up.
- At the same time, the said Legion operates a ship where captured terrorists are subjected to horrific procedures, from dental drilling, to finger breaking, to sex change operations over a period of months to get them to give information. It is mentioned repeatedly that they verify all the information gained with that other prisoners and from intercepted messages. If the captured terrorists are found to be lying their parents are brought in....
- Parodied in Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times. A lot of people try to convey how ruthless and dangerous the villain is by pointing out that "he has a man in the dungeon who can keep you alive for years". While this would imply extensive torture so refined that even dying from it isn't an option, the protagonists usually interpret it literally and ask if it involves jogging and a balanced diet.
- The torture skills of the Quisition in Small Gods is equally remarked upon. In this case, though, whether or not the victim is actually in possession of important information or is a heretic is considered ultimately unimportant. They figure that simply being suspected of something is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, since surely the Great God Om would not allow suspicion to fall on an innocent. Sound familiar?
- Also used by the Gestapo-esque Particulars in Night Watch. They don't seem to care whether it's a reliable method or not; they just torture prisoners until they admit to any crime the Night Watch needs to solve. Vimes gets information out of a suspect by pretending he's used the horrific ginger beer trick on a comrade, but it's actually several watchmen impersonating the sound of fizzy ginger beer and the resultant screaming.
- For those with a too-inquisitive mind, you can find the actual trick in the third season of Dexter: Crooked cop Ramon Prado tortures a gang-banger by shaking a glass soda bottle, then spraying it straight up his nostrils, leveraging the pressure with his thumb, which is harmful enough to give the kid a horrendously bloody nose. Technically doesn't work, because the guy legitimately doesn't know anything.
- Invoked and then subverted in Mercedes Lackey's Arrow's Fall: facing torture, Talia thinks back to her training, in which she was advised that torture will eventually force anyone to give up whatever information they are trying to keep concealed... So, as per her training, Talia starts off with a Sarcastic Confession and then lies extensively and creatively to make sure her torturers won't recognize the truth when they hear it. Of course, they're not especially interested in getting information out of her anyhow.
- Tortall Universe:
- Subverted in the Trickster's Choice, in which after Fesgao asks if they should use torture to get the information from an assassin, Aly replies "Any amateur knows torture is chancy at best. People do still lie under torture."
- It helps if you are in an universe that has truth spells and truthdrops...
- Interestingly, the Beka Cooper series is set in the same universe, and focuses on a group of proto-cops. Torture is still widely used because the high price of truth spells, combined with political red-tape, put them beyond the reach of low-level law enforcement. Actual, genuine torture is shown to be pretty useless and needlessly cruel, but there's no real alternative.
- The title character of Robert A. Heinlein's Friday is captured at the beginning of the book and tortured for days on end, plus truth-telling drugs are used on her, and she's raped. Her reaction to all this? Irritation that her captors are such amateurs because she told them everything she knew immediately, knowing that with the drugs they were using nobody could keep a secret. And as a highly trained courier she is more important than any information she might be carrying on any single trip. Plus, she finds it distressing that they are dumb enough to actually rape her (and several other highly unpleasant things) when they should know that her training allows her to deal with it, making it useless for torture purposes.
- In James Patterson's Cat and Mouse, Pierce gets information out of a suspect simply by shoving a shaken Coke can under his nose and opening it. "It's an old interrogator's trick, incredibly painful, and it always works."
- Caesar relies on this trope in a quite gruesome matter in the fourth Emperor book. After Brutus' FaceHeel Turn, Julius realizes he has to keep the lid on what has happened and make use of the fact that no one ever believed Brutus would betray him, as well as keep an eye on Brutus so that he knows how much he reveals to Pompey. So he lets people believe that Brutus is actually working as a spy, knowing that this is what Pompey is suspecting, and then he selects a soldier to go as a second spy. He purposely selects a clumsy, non-discreet soldier in the hopes that he will be captured and tortured, in which case he'll reveal the truth as he knows it - that Brutus hasn't betrayed Caesar but is his spy. Julius does show a lot of agony over having to go through with the plan, but feels he has no other choice.
- The Cure by Sonia Levittin. It's an open secret that the torturers can get anyone to confess to anything if given enough time, and they apparently don't care whether the confessions are true as long as they match what they're fishing for. (What they're fishing for, incidentally, is a confession that the Black Death is the result of Jews poisoning wells, and that every Jew above the age of seven is in on it. This is Based on a True Story of a town that massacred all its Jews on such a pretext.)
- Generally averted or subverted in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga. Partly because it doesn't work, but also because the drug "fast penta" works quicker and more reliably. It is easily obtained, makes those who take it amiable enough to answer any questions and ensures good, though not perfect, recall. As a happy bonus, physical pain and violence directly counters these effects, so the types inclined to brutal, sadistic interrogations get drummed out quickly. It is a violation, since it compromises a person's volition, so sessions with private citizens are sternly supervised. The only immunity is a fatal allergic reaction. (Which most of the people who know sensitive information have, as it can be artificially induced.) (Or, if you are Miles, having an atypical reaction.) Most of the torture that occurs is motivated by pure sadism and insanity (Shards of Honor, Mirror Dance) and the victims have extensive issues years later (Mark Vorkosigan, Bothari, Elena Visconti). Of course, the existence of fast penta doesn't stop people from occasionally wistfully wondering if it's time to start yanking fingernails when the drug won't work.
- Played straight and subverted in His Dark Materials. Mrs. Coulter uses torture twice to get information from witches in The Subtle Knife, but when she's threatened in The Amber Spyglass, she says that she would have thought that they would "know better than to expect truth to come out of torture."
- Jack Ryan:
- In The Cardinal of the Kremlin, the KGB uses sensory deprivation to break a mole in their service, in their efforts to capture the titular agent. Once said agent was captured, the sensory deprivation method wasn't used due to his health, so instead they used other methods that weren't as harmful to physical condition. Ultimately, he did break, though it took a lot longer than the KGB had planned. The designer of the "new technique" muses that the old methods had more to do with satisfying the sadism of the interrogators than with getting accurate information.
- Played straight in Without Remorse, involving a pressure chamber on an old Navy base used to basically destroy the drug dealer that Clark was questioning.
- In The Sum of All Fears, John Clark tortures two Palestinian terrorists that he had captured to get information from them regarding their plans. The terrorists had come up with a disinformation plan in case of capture, as an alternate method of attaining their goals.
- Subverted in Ben Elton's Stark since the truth is less believable than the lies.
- In his James Bond novels, Ian Fleming (who had prior experience in British intelligence) refers now and then to agents being tortured, on the implicit assumption that, indeed, anyone — even a trained agent — will eventually give up what they know given enough time and pain.
- Played with in Flashman and the Mountain of Light. After being captured by a general of the Khalsa, Flashman is told that he will be tortured for information, with the rationale being that a man as brave is he will only give up what he knows after he's been driven out of his mind with pain. However, not only does Flashman not have any information, he is also an utter coward, and so he breaks down into a terrified wreck at the mere thought of physical pain. Unfortunately, such is his reputation for heroism that his captor assumes he's putting on an act in order to avoid giving up what he knows, and begins torturing him anyway
- Subverted in American Gods - when Shadow is captured and interrogated, he's completely cooperative and truthful, but his captors don't believe him, so the Bad Cop continues to beat the tar out of him. Until Laura shows up, anyway.
- The First Law is about a torturer. Of course, it get subverted ruthlessly in that he knows most of the 'confessions' are false and he only does it to achieve the political goals of his superiors.
- Subverted in Chester Anderson's The Butterfly Kid. First, the protagonist is asked by his alien captors "What do you do?", and finds his vocal system, without his own intervention, telling them what he does, starting with a detailed account of his digestive processes. Then he is strapped into the alien torture machine, but their ideas of torture are... alien; and he finds them easy to withstand, with the possible exception of being forced to watch hallucinations of Donald Duck playing Brahms.
- A running theme in the Mitch Rapp books is that, contrary to the protestations of politically correct liberals, torture works consistently and gives reliable information. On the rare occasions there's someone who doesn't break easily, there will be a weaker compatriot around for the interrogator to exploit instead. Not coincidentally, the author has worked on 24, below.
- According to Aquarium, there are no strong people. There are only bad interrogators.
- Discussed and doubly subverted in The Maltese Falcon. When Kasper Gutman uses the threat of torture in order to coerce Sam Spade to divulge the whereabouts of the Falcon, Sam responds that torture is only effective if the tormentor is ready at some point during the torture to go all the way and kill the victim; Gutman cannot afford to kill Sam since he is the only person knowing the bird's location and Sam knows that Gutman knows that etc... Which is not quite true since many torture techniques are very painful and specially designed to keep the victim alive for an indefinite amount of time.
- In Darkness at Noon, Gletkin, an interrogator during Stalin's purges is a firm believer of this, stating: "Human beings able to resist any amount of physical pressure do not exist." This is despite the fact that during the Civil War, Gletkin was captured by the enemy, and they tied a lighted candlewick on to his shaven skull, but he didn't confess. When this is brought up to him, Gletkin counters that this was only because they didn't have enough time to torture him, as he was rescued a few hours later.
- Subverted in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Bellatrix tries torturing Hermione to find out how they got Gryffindor's sword (which Bellatrix thought was being kept in her vault at Gringotts). She uses the Cruciatus curse on Hermione, but Hermione is still able to lie that the sword they have is a fake. Bellatrix does have the presence of mind to double-check by bringing a goblin she was holding captive to verify this, but Harry gets the goblin to go along with the story.
- Played straight in A Song of Ice and Fire. A knight in Queen Cersei's employ initially gives the false confession they had agreed upon when questioned by the Faith Militant, but under torture he gives up the true story. As part of the same plot, a bard is deliberately tortured into making a false confession. Ironically he's the only one to stick to his story when everyone else has recanted afterwards, as it drives him insane.
- Subverted in Replica. Dirk Mosely, Paxco's chief of security, enjoys using torture, but knows one must be sparing because people can and will say anything to make it stop.
- Deconstructed in Prokleta Avlija. When the two guards use this on Ćamil (trying to get information about a nonexistent conspiracy), he ends up emotionally broken down, and they find out nothing.
- Always works when Butler Parker or one of his associates attempts it using psychological tricks instead of hard-handed torture.
- Inverted in 1984: The Party tortures its victims with the specific intent of getting them to give false information. They don't stop until the victim is 100% willing to say, do, and think anything the Party wants them to without question.
- Discussed Trope in Requiem for an Assassin by Barry Eisler. An old enemy waterboards a friend of John Rain for information on how to contact him. He points out that Torture Is Ineffective if you're just fishing for information, as you've no idea what's true and what's being made up to make the pain stop. However for specific information that you can verify once you have it, it's very effective.
- City of Bones by Martha Wells: In Charisat, legal testimony by non-citizens is only admissible if obtained under torture. Khat holds out against relatively minor torture for one night, but thinks that when they escalate, he'll surely spill the information he's hiding — or whatever he thinks they want to hear. Fortunately, he's rescued before then.
- In the The Powerof Five books, Scott Tyler is kidnapped by the villains and kept sleep-deprived, drugged, and starved until he agrees to do whatever the villains say.
- Discussed in the Archer tie-in book How To Archer. When you're a Cold War-era spy captured by Cold War-era professionals, it WILL be effective. They'll poke your eye out. They'll electrify your scrotum. They'll shove a thermometer up your dickhole and then smash it with a hammer so it shatters. You ARE going to talk. So you might as well talk immediately and save yourself all that trouble.
- In Revolution many characters, but especially Sebastian "Bass" Monroe use torture to get information extremely quickly from any captured villain or lesser character. Miles, however, is shown to be resistant to torture as he is the resident badass.
- Jack Bauer of 24 fame is this trope's clear champion. The over-effectiveness is lampshaded in the comedic "Jack Bauer Facts" that circulate the internet: "Jack Bauer once forgot where he put his keys. He then spent the next half-hour torturing himself until he gave up the location of the keys."
- In fact, a major theme of Day 7 was how torture was necessary because it's so effective and apparently nothing else ever works. In fact, when someone he's interrogating starts saying anything Jack wants to hear, Jack specifies someone who has been in the business as long as him learns to tell when someone is speaking under duress, telling the truth or will never break. He tells the guy off for pretending and states he knows he's dealing with the kind of guy who will cough up the truth under torture. Jack, being Jack, is right (although he's stopped from completing the interrogation by people who believe torture is never acceptable).
- Despite this, torture never, ever works when used on Bauer himself. Yet he still firmly believes in it. Funny how nobody ever points this out.
- Averted in Day 8. Bauer tortures a Russian sniper, going much farther and being far more brutal than ever before, but fails to gain the information he wants. He discovers that the intel is inside the Russian's cell SIM card. Then again, Jack guts the Russian to get the chip. However, for once, it wasn't treated as if the moral of the story is "the crueler the better, it always gets you what you need." Jack had been Jumping Off the Slippery Slope by this point and it was used to show how far off the deep end it was going.
- Also, the Live Another Day miniseries has Jack rule out breaking someone that way on multiple occasions and has had to get information in smarter ways. By the last episode, torturing someone into giving you information had yet to happen even once.
- Most shockingly, Live Another Day subverts it at one point as Jack starts to torture the injured daughter of a villain... and suddenly backs down, humbly admitting that he was just doing it out of spite and knew she wasn't going to talk.
- Bennet in Heroes tortures information out of a captive with a rather creative and sadistic threat. It works because the victim knew (or at least was convinced) that Bennett would carry out his threat later on if the information proved to be wrong.
- Subverted in Volume 5, when Bennett's love interest Lauren, a CIA agent, says that torture never works. She eventually convinces Bennet to coax rather than torture information out of Carnival member Edgar.
- Alias: The other torturin' Jack, the one whose last name is Bristow, is much more selective in his use of torture. Other characters torture, but for some reason it never works—even untrained computer geeks can stand up to enemy intimidation...but even hardened agents are putty in Jack's hands. He doesn't use it often, but he is particularly inventive when he does so, which is possibly why he's so effective. Taking the cake is a scene where he stops the heart of someone who gave him false information through asphyxiation...then brings him back with a Magical Defibrillator. "Give me the information I want, or we do that all over again."
- Psychological torture is used in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit by forcing a suspect into a small closet (he had an intense fear of the dark due to childhood abuse) to make him reveal the location of a woman trapped in a locker with a limited supply of oxygen.
- In Farscape, Rygel once tortured a Charrid to death and managed to extract some valid information from him. But he was more in it for the sadism anyway, since his race was devastated by a Charrid invasion attempt.
- Also, Scorpius' ex-girlfriend Natira tortures a captured mercenary by ripping one of his eyeballs out and apparently eating it. Quite naturally, the mercenary begins confessing, though Scorpius' ability to detect lies helped a lot.
- Downplayed once in Burn Notice. Michael tortures absolutely accurate but borderline useless information out of an assassin sent after him during the first season by poisoning his food with peanuts that the assassin was fatally allergic to. As the assassin painfully chokes to death, Michael dangles his medicine just out of reach until the assassin eagerly reveals everything he knows to Michael, which isn't much (he was hired by old enemies who want Mike dead now that the CIA is no longer protecting him, which has little bearing on the Myth Arc and is something Mike already expected). This is the only time in the series that physical torture even slightly works,note even when performed by protagonists: Michael has notably gotten better information on occasion by letting himself be tortured.
- In the first episode, Lucius Vorenus has a specialist torture detachment crucify Gaullish prisoners to find out who stole Caesar's standard. The first man to put up screams in agony and reveals the information right away. Of course, the modern Western audience is so used to hearing about Jesus Christ suffering on the cross that this effectively puts across the point that crucifixion really hurts.
- Pullo and Octavian kidnap Evander and torture him into admitting he had an affair with their friend's wife. However Octavian is suspicious at the quick confession and insists they continue—it takes hours of torture before Evander admits the real secret, that he fathered a child with her.
- Atia has to torture a confession out of a slave not because it's more effective, but because under Roman law that's the only way a confession from a slave would be held valid. Not that she has any qualms about this.
- Lost: The flashbacks of the Ben/Sayid torture episode, One Of Them, saw Sayid successfully torture a former superior officer of his to get the location of US soldiers. He used pliers to great effect it seemed.
- He also prepared to torture more Others in The Glass Ballerina, telling Sun he would capture two of them and kill the rest. Sun asked why he would take two and Sayid replied: "One to make the other cooperate." Badass mofo.
- In La Femme Nikita, Section One used torture constantly - and always with effective results. This provided a precursor to Jack Bauer's methods, as Nikita was produced by the same team that later created 24.
- Used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy's interrogation subjects are usually demons, whose loyalties are extremely weak. Once she has someone at her mercy, it rarely takes more than a minute for them to start talking.
- Played with in an early episode of Angel. Angel is tortured, and doesn't reveal what the bad guy wants. However, it's revealed afterwards that he was THIS close to do it, but the gang saved him before that point. It is also (possibly) justified, since they hint that the torturer has some sort of lie detecting ability.
- Subverted in Jericho (2006) when Hawkins says torture is great for getting answers, but the fear of torture is better for getting the truth. He even lampshades this trope, saying actual torture only works in the movies.
- Played straight again and again in The Shield. Vic Mackey and his Strike Team frequently torture suspects before arresting them to get useful information. This can range from simply pointing a gun at the suspect or beating them to stabbing them with a badge pin or drowning them in oil. The perps always know exactly what the cops want to find out, they always give in and reveal the details, and they never attempt to give misleading information or tell outright lies. Could be partially justified because Mackey has a fearsome reputation and is likely to track down and punish anyone who tries to play him, but it even works in situations where the suspect ought to be more scared of the people he is betraying, or where he is about to leave town never to be seen again.
- On Scandal, Huck manages to successfully torture information out of a captive even though he keeps the guy's mouth duct-taped shut until after he's past the point of being able to form coherent words.
- On the other hand when Huck himself is captured the torture fails because they can't break him and he doesn't know anything anyway.
- Subverted in an episode from the first season of New Tricks. The team has the suspect in custody, are applying various amount of Perp Sweating to get him to confess, and it appears he is ready to crack, when the trope is subverted by the sudden arrival of the suspect's attorney. The suspect had secretly used his his mobile phone to call his attorney, who was able to listen to - and record - everything that was going on.
- Played straight, once, in Castle: When his daughter Alexis is abducted, Castle and Beckett track down one of the kidnappers. Beckett leaves Castle alone with the seriously wounded man, who refuses to talk even after Castle's Declaration of Protection. Castle takes a deep breath, at which point we cut to Beckett's face as she hears the kidnapper's cries of agony from the other room. In the next scene, they are back at the precinct, having all the information they need. This in contrast to torturing Ryan and Esposito being completely useless in an earlier episode. So in the Castle-verse, Torture Always Works when a protagonist does it?
- In Prison Break, General Zavala becomes the new head of the prison guards at Sona. Unlike his predecessor, he isn't corrupt and believes Michael Scofield about Gretchen Morgan being a criminal. Zavala has Gretchen tortured and, while that doesn't reveal any information at first, concludes that her behavior and composure indicates that this isn't her first time being tortured, confirming that she isn't who she claims. Later, she pretends to break and agrees to take them to a safe house, only to surprise and kill the General and his escort.
- Deconstructed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Chains of Command: Part Two," when Gul Macet captures Picard. The torture fails to retrieve any useful information-but it does succeed in humiliating and breaking Picard. Mostly Macet tries to make Picard say there are five lights when in fact there are four, which Picard later admits he was close to doing before being rescued, even briefly seeing them as five.
- Also deconstructed in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Die is Cast", in which the not quite reformed Garak is forced back into Cardassia's brutal Obsidian Order. In his previous stint as a spy, Garak had been among other things a skilled torturer and is sent back into that role...but when assigned to torture his friend Odo for information about the Founders, it's Garak who breaks. He desperately begs Odo to give him any information, even if it's a lie, so he can stop the torture and report it to his superiors.
- Sharpe: in Sharpe's Sword, Sharpe takes offence when Wellington's latest spymaster says he is holding information in case Sharpe is captured and tortured. Sharpe says he would never talk and is rebuked with:
"Don't be a fool, everyone talks on the third day."
- Lampshaded and played with in Person of Interest. Root needs answers from Shaw, and she notes that, statistically, torture only ever gets false answers or at the very least useless ones. That doesn't mean that she's not going to torture Shaw, because she is on a schedule.
Root: You should know torture almost never produces good information. (picks up hot iron) Well... almost never. Sadly, we are on a bit of a clock.
- Jessica Jones (2015): Played with. When Jessica and Simpson capture one of Kilgrave's bodyguards, Simpson wants to pry his kneecap off with a knife to get him to talk, but Jessica points out that he's mind-controlled, so he won't say anything no matter what they do. The bodyguard then says that 1: He's not mind-controlled, and 2: He'll tell them whatever they want, so could they please put the knife away?
- Played with in the TV movie Gulag (1985). An American journalist is framed by the KGB as a spy, then subjected to interrogation in filthy cells, but this only makes him more angry and defiant. His interrogator states that he will be allowed visitors, so he's allowed to shower and shave and dress himself in clean clothes. Then a guard enters holding his previous filthy clothes and demands he put them back on as he's going back to his cell. The journalist suffers an immediate mental breakdown, and provides the fake confession. So torture was effective, but sometimes you have to be clever about it. And in this case confessing to something the accused didn't do was the idea.
- A French Village: Müller regularly claims this to his victims before beginning, saying it's just a matter of time and technique before people talk. Generally it seems to be the case, but in one case he's thwarted when a captured Communist who's aware he has a weak heart dies after he'd held out.
- A horrifying example in the Bones episode "The Scare in the Score": someone who's after Booth, but doesn't actually know his name, captures one of the men in his old army unit, but after having failed to extract info from another of Booth's comrades (see below), they also abduct an innocent old lady and torture her in front of Booth's friend until he breaks and gives up his name. ...And then, they kill the old lady and move on to torture Booth's friend For the Evulz for one week.
- Ken Shamrock did this once to Christian, after he had been implicated in the kidnapping of Shamrock's on-screen sister, Ryan. Christian and his cronies, Edge and Gangrel, were yukking it up in the ring about how they had gotten to Shamrock, only for Shamrock to come storming out to the ring and — after sending Edge and Gangrel out of the ring — began brutally beating Christian. Christian refused to talk at first, making Shamrock accelerate his punishment. After several minutes in his crossface lock, Christian squealed.
- In GURPS torture gives a huge bonus to interrogation rolls but Social Engineering turns this on its head. A subject who is overwhelmed by torture or a long interrogation will say whatever they think will stop the torture rather than what they think is true. As a result the bonus can play against the interrogator.
- Zig-Zagged in Dungeons & Dragons' The Book of Vile Darkness. Torture makes it easier for torturers to Intimidate their victims, but they also take penalties to Sense Motive checks as most believe wholeheartedly in the reliability of knowledge gained from torture.
- Zig-Zagged in Warhammer 40,000: On the one hand, the Inquisition has grown extremely skilled at extracting information. Unfortunately some Inquisitors have a grox-in-a-ceramic-store approach which tends to get a lot more innocent (well, innocent for a given value of innocent...) people in the dungeons than actual heretics, and they all end up in the pyre or the penal legions anyway. And in the case of Slaaneshi cultists it doesn't even work unless you get really creative.
- One such room known simply as Interrogation Chamber XXIX has a 100% success rate. The white room has been stained brown and black by the procedures preformed on the victims, which include simply ripping the knowledge straight from the brain, physically or otherwise, or using psychic manipulation to reshape the personality to more... compliant... shapes.
- Warhammer has an inversion: one Witch Hunter manages to get the information he needs from Slaaneshi heretics by giving them a potion that numbs all sensory input. To those who worship a god(dess) based on constant physical sensation, it's a complete Mind Rape.
- The basic trope is Older Than Feudalism, since in classical legal systems slaves could only testify under torture, and a stock gambit by the accused was to defy the court to torture his slaves. However, it is subverted in Aristophanes The Frogs, where Dionysus' slave, impersonating Dionysus, tells the underworld guards to torture Dionysus, impersonating the slave. They end up BOTH getting tortured to see which is the real god, and hilariously trying to pretend that it doesn't hurt a bit, no, sir.
- In Oedipus the King, the shepherd who found the abandoned infant Oedipus and gave him to Polybus is brought to Oedipus and refuses to talk. Oedipus orders his guards to twist his arm behind his back until he does. Later, he threatens to have the man killed when he hesitates again. Only then does Oedipus become the last in the play to deduce the Awful Truth that he indeed did, as prophesied, kill his father and marry his mother.
- The "Interrogation" missions in Assassin's Creed consist of Altair stalking people into dark alleys and beating them until they give up general information. He's also using more intimidation than actual pain; beating them up is just to subdue them so he can start asking questions, and he doesn't actively torture the victim.
- In the video game adaptation of Spider-Man, Spidey dangles a gang member over the edge of an apartment building. He talks.
- One of the big features of the Punisher game was the ability to torture any random mooks, either through "standard" means like pressing your gun against their head, or threatening to put them into furnaces or put a freaking drill through their head. Only some of them would actually give you useful information, though (although they all gave you information of some kind). There's also two mooks per level who, if you torture, might say something that causes Frank to have a flashback. He'll even comment after killing/sparing them.
"Wait, I'm innocent!" He remembers his son's death.
"I was only following orders!" Recalls patrol in Vietnam.
- World of Warcraft:
- Death Knights have to torture lots of people to death in one of their starting quests before one of them finally talks... but it's still an example, because as soon as anyone says anything it's the truth. Then it's subverted, because you don't believe them and the victim dies from the wounds before it can finish explaining.
- In the quest line which precedes your entry into The Nexus, you're required by the Kirin Tor to torture an imprisoned sorcerer until he talks. And when he finally does, all the information turns out to be completely accurate.
- Subverted in one quest, in which torturing a quillboar gets him to reveal the name of his leader, but only because he's too stupid to avoid unintentionally blurting it out, and offering him food or tickling him will also get him to give the information. In fact, the latter techniques actually work faster.
- In The Last of Us, Joel gets information through torture twice. In both cases, he gets the information he needs quickly and easily.
- The first time is justified, as he tortures one mook while keeping a second tied up to corroborate the information he receives, though in the end he doesn't bother to double-check and just kills both of them.
- The second time is more problematic: in a race against time to save Ellie from being killed for a vaccine, he takes a gun from the guard who was escorting him from the building and demands to know where she is, shooting said guard when he remains quiet. The guard promptly tells him before Joel finishes him off with a shot to the head. Joel has zero means of verifying the information he is given and the information will be useless to him with just the slightest delay, yet he was able to get precisely the information he needed in the space of a few seconds of torture.
- In one of the dead drops in In Famous Second Son, the informant informs Delsin that Augustine has been torturing people for information to his location. Most quickly swear that they could lead her right to you. However it is clearly a subversion as they are most likely saying this just to get the torture to stop. The informant all but confirms this but still warns Delsin to watch himself.
- Lord Brevon of Freedom Planet gets Torque to talk pretty quickly through this method. In an interesting variation, however, he's torturing Lilac rather than Torque himself.
- Played with in Crusader Kings II. You mechanically cannot torture prisoners for playable information, but torture events can give you a fearsome reputation represented by the "Impaler" trait, which buffs your Intrigue and Learning stats and your troops' effectiveness in battle.
- Not done for interrogation purposes, but in Warhammer 40,000: Gladius, one quest has the Chaos God Slaanesh demand that the Chaos army drive the robotic Necrons insane. The Chaos forces succeed by capturing the Necrons, discovering their pleasure/pain centres and then tortured/pleasured them into madness.
- Modern Warfare: Al-Asad, Rojas' assistant, Rojas himself, Warrabe, and Volk are subjected to the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. The only one who it doesn't work on is Al-Asad, of all people, but the necessary information is discovered mid interrogation when he gets a phone call, so perhaps it just didn't last long enough. It even gets discussed regarding Volk:
Price: Did our man talk?Sandman: They always talk.
- In Mass Effect tie-in novel Mass Effect: Revelation, Kahlee Sanders is kidnapped and reflects on how she'll be deprived until she cooperates. They'll keep her locked in a closet for three days with no food, water or exercise. Then they'll give her a little water and ask her to work for them. If she says no, they'll put her away again. And if she still says no, they'll start beating and hurting her. Sooner or later, the combination of deprivation and discomfort will make her choose the option most convenient to her.
- In Erfworld, Parson's understanding of the enemy plan (after Wanda reports that their prisoner has given it up) matches what we know of Ansom's actual plans. However, it's an open question how much this owes to torture (which the two have of a history of doing recreationally anyway) and how much to other psychological pressures and regular mind control, using magic.
- In Girl Genius, Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventurer!) assumes this is what Baron Wulfenbach intends, but the Baron is simply interested in taking him apart to see what makes the spark tick. "No matter what you do to me, I'll never talk!" "Ah, if only that were so."
- Last Res0rt subverts it with Daisy Archanis and her leaked confession that she's actually the Galaxy Girl Scout Arael who set off a huge feud, which was apparently extracted using torture... and everyone knows it, including Daisy's supporters, arguing that because she was tortured for the information, it MUST be bogus. Veled admits later that she didn't need to torture Daisy for the information — just the audio confession thereof, since Veled can extract whatever somebody knows just by touching them (and thus confirm the truth of Daisy's statements). In other words, Daisy had to be tortured into compliance, not into supplying new information.
- Averted in Sarilho, in which nothing of value is extracted out of the Foreigner after a torture section by not one but two Torture Technicians.
- The Hitherby Dragons story "An Oracle For NP" deconstructs this. It starts with a torturing that reveals the location of a bomb from someone who has no way of knowing where it was from or how. Further experimentation soon reveals that a suitably chosen torture victim can give correct answers to any question whatsoever, and the world soon shifts to a high-tech utopia built on the backs of a caste of victims.
- In the Assassin's Creed: Lineage prequel video, Giovanni Auditore (Ezio's father) captures one of Rodrigo Borgia's Mooks and delivers him to Lorenzo de' Medici. Uberto Alberti tortures the captive on a rack, who reveals the Templar plot to assassinate Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
- This was believed to be fact for most of Western history. Before the 1600s, torture was simply matter of factly used by courts for extracting confessions. It was believed that God would help a person resist torture if they were innocent, so false confessions were thought to be impossible. Even so, there were usually legal limits on its use. In England, torture was not used so frequently as on the continent, requiring the King or his Privy Council's consent. Law courts on the continent issued torture warrants based on sworn accusations commonly. The Inquisition actually had more limits on its use than the secular courts, ruling that torture could be used only once, though this was gotten around by "suspending" torture sessions and starting again later. Confessions under torture had to be repeated afterward in court (though the threat of further torture if the accused recanted made this empty). Witchcraft trials saw even these meager protections thrown out. Since witchcraft was the "crimen exceptum", even suspects managing to hold out and not confess under torture would not save them. Instead, it was said the Devil had aided them to resist, blithely ignoring the belief God would do so for an innocent person mentioned earlier. Not until into the 1600s would torture's effectiveness first be questioned. England banned torture in 1640. One story goes that a German prince whose domain had then seen a number of witch trials was concerned with the fantastic things accused witches had confessed under torture, and asked for the Jesuit Order to investigate. They did so, and reported that the practice was proper. Afterward the prince called the Jesuits into a torture chamber, where he brought them to a woman who had already confessed to witchcraft. The prince asked if the Jesuits were involved too. At first she denied it, but then immediately agreed they were when he threatened to have her tortured further. Astonished, the Jesuits became convinced of its failure. Father Frederich Spee, a Jesuit priest who acted as confessor to people convicted of witchcraft, also wrote a groundbreaking book, Cautio Criminalis (Precautions for Prosecutors) which noted torture's ability to produce false confessions and argued in favor of banning it, with accused witches having the same legal rights. Another was On Crimes and Punishments by Italian judge Cesare Beccaria, who also argued against capital punishment (again an innovative view). Many governments that use torture are now aware its efficacy for getting true confessions is dubious at best. For some, this has meant they prohibit the use of torture due it to being unreliable and cruel. Others, unfortunately, use it to gain confessions they know are false (used for show trials in many dictatorships) or simply to punish their dissidents. The War on Terror has seen a revival of torture being used by Western states, but the same criticisms of this have been made.
- In 1611, then-teenaged Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi was raped by one of her father's painting students. At the rapist's trial (which partly had to determine whether or not Artemisia had been a virgin at the time), Artemisia was the one tortured, to test the veracity of her rape accusation and claim of previous virginity (if she hadn't been a virgin, he couldn't be convicted). She insisted under torture by thumbscrews that both were true without failing. Judicial torture like this was commonly used then.
- In his autobiography, US senator John McCain recounted being captured and tortured by the Viet Cong. He held out for four days, but eventually told them everything he knew, and has related numerous times that everyone has a breaking point, and he'd held out for as long as he felt he could. To his credit, after this torture they offered to release him ahead of other prisoners because his father was an admiral, but he refused.