Torture is shown or said to be ineffective.
In some media works, torture is effective in obtaining information or extracting truthful confessions. In others, it isn't. This may be because the creators want to deliver An Aesop about the wrongness or evils of torture. Or it may simply be that the plot requires that torture not work this time around.
If it's meant to be an Aesop, the ineffectiveness of torture will generally be directly stated by The Hero or other "good guy" character. (If an antagonistic character says it, they're usually a Straw Character and this trope will not be in effect.)
Plot-related reasons why torture might not be effective include:
- The character being tortured is so badass or pain-resistant that they're able to hold out until rescued or the torturer gives up.
- The torturee is Too Kinky to Torture (all examples of this go on that page.)
- The character being tortured has a prepared lie that will take just enough time to check out that the real plan can go ahead while the torturer is distracted.
- The torturer is inept and asks the wrong questions, allows Exact Words to mask the truth, or accidentally kills the victim before they give up any information.
- The victim of the torture is an innocent person who doesn't know anything (or isn't innocent but the information they're being interrogated for is above their pay grade), and only tells the torturer what they want to hear to make the pain stop. Note that this is not an instance of ineffective torture if the torturers simply want someone to confess.
This may lead into a Good Cop/Bad Cop moment where another interrogator takes over from the first one, tries asking nicely, and succeeds where torture failed.
Contrast Torture Always Works, where the techniques are effective, Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, where torture is effective enough and justified by time pressures, Torture First, Ask Questions Later where the ineffectiveness of the torture is down to an overeager torturer rather than the methodology, and Torture for Fun and Information where the effectiveness of the torture is secondary to the torturer's enjoyment of the procedure. This trope can be considered Truth in Television as pointed out by the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture (not linked) as torture is unreliable and can produce false positives except when extracting confessions and confirming already known information (although wording is a serious consideration as those undergoing torture will often say what their torturers want to hear in addition to simply picking the wrong person to torture).
- In World Trigger, Border has a discussion on the pointlessness of torturing a single prisoner because without means to compare or verify the information provided, the prisoner can just lie and say whatever the one torturing him wants. Furthermore, having a living lie detector is useless if the prisoner is stubborn enough to stay mum.
- In Naruto, Rin Nohara was captured and tortured with genjutsu to force her give up vital info that she possessed. She did NOT give in, only breaking down later when she and Kakashi had to leave a wounded Obito behind.
- Discussed in Serenity: Leaves on the Wind. The Alliance officer who captures Zoe doesn't even bother interrogating her, never mind torture, because his Sherlock Scan determined that she was too principled and too stubborn to ever crack. Instead he has her sent to a Penal Colony and tells her she's never going to see her daughter again, "because you are stubborn."
- The Punisher MAX:
Frank: When he had no lies left in him- that's when I'd ask where he'd left my daughter.
- Played straight when the completely sociopathic villain Barracuda successfully captured Frank and had him tied to a chair. He discusses what he wants to do to Frank and mentions how he considered torturing him, but dismissed it because "hardcore motherfuckah like you, you just gonna disconnect all that pain. So what's the point?"
- Later subverted in the very same arc once Frank hooks Barracuda's scrotum to a car battery for an hour (despite Barracuda being ready to talk a quarter of the way in). It works but it still isn't enough to keep Barracuda down.
- In Annihilation: Conquest, Blastaar is captured by the Phalanx and tortured for information regarding the insurgency. However, Blastaar doesn't know anything because the insurgency diverge as little information as possible to their members as a way to avoid the enemy knowing too much. Blastaar doesn't even know who his superiors are.
- Diabolik knows perfectly that torture is unreliable, as some will confess anything to have it stop and others will die before talking (him being one such individual, who once faked breaking under torture just to drag his capturers into a trap), and on top of that he sometimes finds people whose bodies are simply too weak to take it (one of his victims flat-out told him that to his face). That is why he prefers to rely on Truth Serum and his terrifying reputation, only resorting to it when his usual methods are ineffective or would take too much time-or just lock them away if the victim is resilient or cannot be tortured (such as the one mentioned above, an old woman who knew had a heart too weak to take take either torture or truth serum and thus didn't fear Diabolik as she knew he wouldn't harm her for no reason).
- In a Batman Confidential arc set very early in Batman's career, two mooks capture the man who could become The Joker, tie him to a chair, and work him for several hours. At the end, he sneers in contempt, telling them they have no idea of how to properly torture someone. They haven't been working for pain, since they've been hitting the same spots for hours, long after they had become desensitized, and they weren't working for deformation, since they were using the wrong tools. As such, he dismisses both as talentless amateurs.
- In "Frostbite" Dalsh Ruul, a Breen captain, tries to get Commander Tess Phohl to talk by first threatening to kill one of her noncoms, then by using a painstick. Neither has any effect whatsoever: The only thing of substance Tess says the whole time apart from name, rank, and serial number is that if Dalsh Ruul kills said noncom, Tess' captain will personally strangle him with his own intestines. None of the other captured members of the away team say anything, either, apart from Specialist Atti calling the Breen's mother a whore.
- In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, Sarah uses her wide variety of abilities to pummel Thalia Tediore. It doesn't work in the slightest, due to Tediore both being an Idle Rich Upper-Class Twit and having the mental backing of a far stronger being a Flood "Overmind".
- Emael Mosekhesailho presents an interesting variant where the torture (drugs, waterboarding, and Electric Torture) fails at getting information out of the prisoner because the prisoner is already telling the truth: Sahuel, a Romulan Imperial Fleet analyst, didn't break into classified files to spy for the Federation or Klingons, she was just investigating her mother's death in Shinzon's coup. Her torturer decides to believe her and recruits her into the Tal'Shiar.
- Happens in the Star Wars fic Important Information. Han Solo gets beaten, burned, whipped, attacked with bugs called blood parasites, and sustains numerous broken bones and internal injuries. There's also pain and pleasure enhancing drugs and repeated rape. He's almost dead when the cavalry rescues him and actually does die in Leia's arms albeit temporarily. But although he later tells Leia that he came close to breaking, he never actually did. He also stayed mentally strong enough to prevent too much information (other than the planet the imperials were looking for)from being extracted by some sort of Force mind-probe attempt. Probably justified, considering he's a badass in canon and wouldn't want to betray his lover, either. It almost crosses into Made of Iron territory, except that part of what keeps him going in the end, along with adrenaline, is Luke supporting him by giving him life essence through the force.
- The Mad Scientist Duran Duran tries to wrangle the secrets from the titular Barbarella using a machine called the Orgasmotron. After banging off the equivalent of a Beethoven piano concerto on the machine's controls, it falls apart from overuse. The madman is astonished that a woman can endure multiple orgasms. Surprise, surprise.
- In The Dark Knight Batman pummels the Joker in the police interrogation room, but Joker laughs it off because torture would never make him talk. He only tells Batman what Batman wants to hear because it amuses him to. And even then, part of what he tells Batman is wrong. The Joker tells Batman where Harvey Dent and Rachael are, but intentionally switches their locations.
- Star Wars:
- In A New Hope, an Imperial officer warns Darth Vader that Princess Leia will die before telling him anything. Offscreen, Leia withstands both a session with a torture droid and a Mind Probe with the Force without cracking. Even when Grand Moff Tarkin threatens to destroy her homeworld with the Death Star if she won't give up the Rebels' headquarters, she instead gives him information on a base they'd already abandoned.
- Zigzagged in The Force Awakens. Mundane torture by a First Order interrogator fails to make Poe Dameron talk, but Kylo Ren uses a Force Mind Probe and succeeds. Then he later fails at the same technique with Force-sensitive Rey, who turns it back on him and takes him apart.
- Played straight and driven home with brutal effect by Nice Guy Eddie in Reservoir Dogs. He walks into a warehouse where three of his criminal associates, eager to find out who betrayed them, are beating the hell out of a cop they captured. He puts a stop to it and explains: "You beat this guy long enough, he'll tell you he started the Great Chicago Fire. Now, just because he says that don't necessarily make it so." What really sells the scene is the contempt dripping from his voice as he's saying this; he obviously can't believe he has to explain something so simple to three people who are supposed to be experienced crooks. Ironically, it later turns out that the cop did know about the set-up, but he never cracked under pressure, not even when Mr. Blonde threatens to burn him alive.
- Torturing James Bond generally results only in him snarking at his captors.
- Dr. No: No has Bond beaten by his guards and leaves, planning to interrogate him further later. He doesn't get the chance, as Bond makes an Air-Vent Passageway escape between sessions.
- Die Another Day: Bond is taken prisoner by the North Korean Army at the end of the prologue and tortured for months, before finally being traded back to the UK. M assumes the North Koreans only traded him because he cracked; Bond assures her he never did.
- Casino Royale (2006): Le Chiffre starts hitting him in the groin with a flail while he's tied naked to a chair.
Bond: I got a little itch, down there. (whack) No, to the left! To the left!
Le Chiffre: You are an amusing man, Mr. Bond. (whack)
Bond: (crying and laughing) Yes! Yes! Now the whole world's going to know that you died scratching my balls.
Le Chiffre: I died?
Bond: Yes. Because no matter what you do, I'm not gonna give you the password. Which means your clients will hunt you down, and cut you into pieces of meat while you're still breathing.
- Spectre: Blofeld tortures Bond by repeatedly driving a small drill into his neck, threatening him that he's going to erase parts of Bond's memory this way, such as his memory of the current Bond girl. Bond withstands the torture and breaks loose immediately after.
- In Halo: Nightfall, Randall Aiken tries to beat information out of an alien prisoner who supplied a radiological weapon (something like a highly selective dirty bomb) to a Sangheili terrorist. (It's worth noting Aiken's daughter was one of the victims, so he may not have been thinking too clearly here.) This doesn't work, and Jameson Locke quickly gets the information they need by playing the good cop to Aiken's bad cop and talking to the prisoner in his own language.
- The Punisher (2004): In an early scene, Frank threatens a low-level mook with a cutting torch, but then simulates actually burning him by using the torch on a steak (for the smell) while jabbing him in the back with a popsicle (for numbing the nerves). This proves more effective than actual torture in the movie, as shown when Dave refuses to give up Frank's location to The Dragon even when Quentin begins ripping his piercings out one by one.
- Mission: Impossible III: Played two different ways.
- First, Ethan interrogates The Heavy his team has abducted on the nature of the film's MacGuffin (a canister of Plot-oleum called "the Rabbit's Foot"). When talking doesn't work and the arms dealer threatens Ethan's relatives (successfully guessing that Ethan is now married), Ethan tries a High-Altitude Interrogation by hanging him out the bottom of their transport plane and slowly cutting the cable ties holding him to his seat. He still doesn't talk, and worse, learns Ethan's identity from his teammates shouting What the Hell, Hero?.
- Second, after the dealer captures Ethan, he holds his previously kidnapped wife at gunpoint, telling Ethan he didn't bring him the real MacGuffin in exchange for wifey's release and demanding to know what happened to the real one. Ethan truthfully insists he did bring them the real one but the dealer counts to ten and shoots the wife in the head anyway. Then Ethan's handler, a traitor, walks in the room and rips a latex mask off the dead woman, who turns out to be the arms dealer's former security chief. The arms dealer was just killing two birds with one stone, assuring himself that Ethan had upheld his end and administering a You Have Failed Me in the bargain.
- A Fistful of Dollars: Despite Ramon's brutal attempts to extract information from both Joe and Silvanito, he ends up with exactly zero in the way of useful information.
- Red Sparrow: Multiple sequences of brutal torture (beatings and an extended scene of the subject being skinned alive with a tool used in skin graft surgery) completely fail to get useful information. Dominika and Nate are just that tough, while Volontov is innocent and doesn't know anything.
- Deewaar: When Samant and his men torture Anita, they don't get the information they want.
- Momentum: Multiple examples played different ways. Most involve the heroine Alex and antagonist Mr. Washington.
- Subverted with the bank manager in the opening heist sequence, who initially refuses to co-operate with thieves but eventually tires of being a human punching bag.
- Played straight with Alex's partner. Despite Mr. Washington's best efforts, he refuses to give up the location of a valuable data drive. This could be considered a Heroic Sacrifice as doing so would have given away Alex as well.
- Later Alex herself, who holds out under electroshock treatment and her leg being squeezed in a vice.
- Apparently subverted when Alex succumbs to Mr. Washington's mind games. She appears to crack when he brings up her failed CIA mission that resulted in the deaths of several innocent civilians. In reality a double subversion, since Alex only pretends to break as part of a larger strategy to outsmart him.
- The Hitman's Bodyguard: Bryce is captured by Dukhovitch's goons in the third part of the movie, who start torturing him to find out where Kincaid is. At this point, Bryce himself has given up trying to predict what Kincaid is going to do next and was just following behind him to cover his six. He tells the Torture Technician, "If I knew, I would tell you," and suggests that they'd have better luck trying to establish a bond with him. Then he tells them that Kincaid is right behind them. They still don't believe him. Cue Kincaid busting in and killing all of Bryce's captors in about thirty seconds.
- 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.
- Captain America: Civil War: Zemo captures a HYDRA mook and hangs him upside down with his head in a sink that's slowly filling with water, telling him to talk or drown. The mook defiantly yells "Hail HYDRA!" and drowns on purpose.
- Discussed in the Hurog duology. A torturer states that torture is ineffective if done by amateurs. It needs a professional torturer like him to really get that much-needed information out of a prisoner. Shortly after giving this speech he is stabbed by his victim. Seems he wasn't that good at his job. In other instances, torture is shown to be ineffective because the victim just doesn't know anything - or because the torturers ask the wrong questions.
- In Raiders of Gor the city-state of Port Kar is attacked. They capture some of the attackers and torture them for information, as is common on Gor. After interviewing one captive, who "confesses" that a whole series of other city-states are in on it, it's explicitly stated by the protagonist that the torturees will say anything the torturers want in order for the torture to stop.
- In Terry Pratchett's Discworld: Night Watch, Sam Vimes, a man pathologically opposed to actual physical torture, gets results by subjecting captured members of the secret police to psychological warfare: he plays on their imagination, their knowledge, and their guilty consciences about torture to terrify them into confessing. (They are led to believe by sound and play-acting that one of their number is being tortured, unseen but definitely heard, in a cell round the corner.)
- With physical torture, the book plays this trope straight. Captain Swing decides someone is guilty, and then he is miraculously proven right by his torturers.
- Played straight in one of the Doc Savage pulp fiction novels from the 1930s. A character has been tortured for information, and Doc asks if he revealed anything. The man simply shrugged, saying that it was torture and therefore he just told his tormentors what they wanted to hear.
- In Iain Banks' Transition, a torturer/narrator explains that the worst torture of all is just describing what will happen. Later in the same book, torture fails to work, but only because the character being tortured teleports out of his body first.
- The Dark Ones in Murderess fail to get any information from their prisoner Aucasis about her brother Hallwads whereabouts. While its likely she has no idea herself, she doesnt even give them false information to get them to leave her alone.
- In the first book of Inheritance Cycle, Durza tortures Arya for information over a period of roughly six months. He nearly drives her mad but does not obtain any useful information.
- In Ciaphas Cain: The Traitor's Hand, The Rival Commissar Tomas Beije attempts to torture information out of a Slaanashi cultist, only to get spontaneously kissed for his trouble. Cain comments in his Internal Monologue that trying to torture information out of Slaaneshi is about as ineffective as torture gets, and he's able to get a captured smuggler to talk with a simple Good Cop/Bad Cop routine.
- In the Tom Clancy novel The Sum of All Fears, the terrorists who nuked the Super Bowl are captured by Clark and Chavez. Clark uses some Fingore on them to get information on their backer, and after holding out for a while, the terrorists finger the nation of Iran. The catch is that they had planned this as an attempted Xanatos Gambit: if the US does retaliate against Iran, they will have "made an enemy out of all Islam".
- In The Name of the Rose, the trope is discussed by William who used to be an inquisitor but avoided using torture. He explains that people under torture say not only what the inquisitor wants to hear, but also what they imagine might please him. Later, when another inquisitor, Bernardo Gui interrogates a man, the threat of torture is enough for him to make a false confession.
- Played with in Horus Heresy. Curze spends nearly a year torturing Vulkan in his attempts to turn him into a sociopathic, brutal murderer like him, trying to prove that every man is evil at heart. It fails, but he succeeds in making Vulkan go completely insane.
- This is discussed in Robert Anton Wilson's Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, where a victim of the Inquisition confesses information that seems to be at least partially true, but it's clear that it's impossible to tell which parts of his confession are genuine and which are fabrications made to please his tormentors, blurring the line between reality and lie in the eyes of the witnesses.
- Star Wars Legends:
- The Essential Guide to Alien Species presents a variant. A passage from Darth Vader's personal journal reveals that he once interrogated a Toydarian and, like Qui-Gon Jinn before him, found that the species has an innate resistance to mental manipulation with the Force. However, he successfully broke the subject with mundane torture.
- X-Wing Series:
- In Rogue Squadron, Kirtan Loor finds he cannot use his preferred interrogation technique on Corran Horn's friend Gil Bastra because Bastra has been taking a drug that reacts with one used for torture in such a way that the subject could suffer anything from amnesia to death. Loor uses a different technique and then puts him in bacta to heal between sessions, but Bastra dies due to an allergic reaction.
- In The Krytos Trap, Corran Horn is tortured and subjected to brainwashing techniques by Ysanne Isard in her Lusankya prison in hopes of turning him into a Manchurian Agent. She fails and puts him into gen pop. That doesn't work either; he figures out The Alcatraz's secret and escapes. However, Corran comments in his Internal Monologue that she probably did get whatever useful intelligence he knew.
- Discussed in Tatooine Ghost. An incognito Grand Admiral Thrawn criticizes a stormtrooper commander for torturing civilians for information. When the stormie talks back, Thrawn punches him in the face and then asks him if that made him like him any better. The Empire's new doctrine, according to Thrawn, isn't brutality, it's efficiency.
- In The Thrawn Trilogy: Dark Force Rising, Grand Admiral Thrawn captures smuggler Talon Karrde in hopes of finding the lost Katana fleet and adding its ships to his navy (Karrde had found it purely by accident during a blind hyperspace jump to escape the cops), but was still in the early stages of the torture (sleep and food deprivation) when Luke and Mara Jade break him out and doesn't get anything. Thrawn later simply buys the information from Karrde's ex-partner so he could get to it before the New Republic.
- Harry Potter:
- The Cruciatus Curse is, well, excruciating, but its effectiveness at getting information is extremely variable. For example, after Voldemort's first "death," four of his followers tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom to find out what had happened to him. Problem was, neither of the Longbottoms had any relevant information, so all that happened was that the Longbottoms were rendered permanently catatonic and the torturers ended up in Azkaban.
- Harry himself attempts to use Cruciatus on Bellatrix Lestrange in book five during the Department of Mysteries battle. It's not very effective and Bellatrix comments that righteous anger (over Bellatrix killing Sirius Black in this case) is a poor fuel for the curse: you have to really want to hurt somebody to make it work.
- Happens again in book seven. Bellatrix discovers that the trio have the sword of Gryffindor, which she believes to be in her vault at Gringotts. She tries to torture the truth out of Hermione, who convinces her that they haven't been anywhere near Gringotts (true) and that their sword is a fake (a lie).
- In Wolf Hall, the narrative comes down on the "no" side as to whether or not Thomas Cromwell got Mark Smeaton to confess adultery with Anne Boleyn by torturing him.note It's not because of moral objections, but because it wouldn't work—Cromwell wants words he can transcribe, not screams. Instead, he threatens to leave Smeaton alone with his Psycho Sidekick, then makes him spend the night in a dark closet next to a huge, multi-pointed metal object. (It's really the giant gilded star he hangs up for Christmas.)
- In Halo: The Cole Protocol, ONI agent Akio Watanabe, despite working for a very shady State Sec organization, makes it very clear that he believes this trope is true, in large part because he's been tortured himself.
- In The Crowner John Mysteries, although torture is permitted by law, John's personal belief is that a confession extracted by torture has no veracity and prefers to find proof. However, he is not above using the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique if time is short and the situation is dire.
- Second Apocalypse: While most torture in the series is disturbingly effective, the Mandate sorcerers are the sole exception. They command the most powerful magics in the world, and so other schools capture them whenever possible to try to force them to give their secrets, but in hundreds of years, not one has ever broken. This is because the Mandate sorcerers relive the memories of their founder, Seswatha, every night; when they are tortured, his personality rises to the fore. Since he has been tortured by sex-crazed aliens, insane elves, and angry gods, there is absolutely nothing anyone can throw at him to make him so much as blink. Even torturing the friends of Mandate sorcerers doesn't work, since they're just strangers to Seswatha.
- The Deed of Paksenarrion: In the third book, Paks surrenders to a cult of Liart (the setting's God of Evil) in exchange for them freeing Duke Kieri Phelan, whom she's discovered is heir to the throne of Lyonya. She's tortured physically and psychologically for days, including repeated rapes and forcing her to watch other innocents be tortured, in hopes of breaking her or getting her to swear loyalty to Liart. She endures all and is finally freed by the local Thieves' Guild (with a side of divine intervention by her patron deity the High Lord, the setting's equivalent to the Abrahamic God).
- Beka Cooper: It's mentioned that the Guard don't like having to resort to torture as, in addition to ethical concerns, it's far less effective than truthspells. Unfortunately, there is too much cost and too much red tape required for reliable access to truthspells, so the Guard ends up using torture far more than they want.
- Temeraire: Played for Black Comedy when Laurence is arrested by the Japanese in Blood of Tyrants. One Japanese official points out that the Japanese are known to be made of sterner stuff than foreigners, so an interrogation that would extract the truth from one of them would only kill a member of a weaker race. Everyone then studiously ignores that Laurence is by far the most powerfully built person in the room.
- Played With In The Wire, Butchie refuses to talk when Chris Partlow and Snoop torture him to find out Omar's whereabouts. Chris and Snoop offer to let him go without harm if he gives up Omar. Butchie says no, even when Chris explicitly tells him that it will get messy if he doesn't talk. Chris and Snoop end up shooting Butchie in the kneecap, then in the groin, and then in the head when they figure they're attracting too much attention with Butchie's screaming. In the end, all Chris and Snoop got was blood on their hands and no useful information, although they do succeed in luring Omar out of retirement ultimately leading to the latter's death at the hands of Kenard.
- Warehouse 13: When Mrs. Frederick resorts to "Enhanced Interrogation" to get information out of Sally on how to prevent the destruction of a building the Regents are trapped within, Agent Jinks pauses to remind Mrs. F that is has been statistically proven that torture never yields viable information. Jinks apparently forgot the fact that the only reason Sally is in that situation to begin is that she successfully tortured one Regent until said Regent revealed the location of the others. Or he said that deliberately as part of a plan to infiltrate the enemy group. Also, torture might well be effective if Jinks is involved in the process since he has the ability to tell when people are lying.
- Burn Notice: Series protagonist Michael Westen narrates on the futility of torture or enhanced interrogation very frequently. He has even gone so far as to let himself be tortured as a means of feeding false information to his adversary. Other successful techniques have been a High-Altitude Interrogation (dropping a guy out of a window with a cable to arrest his fall, in order to get the other prisoner to talk from the screams), and Madeline Westen, Michael's mom, very calmly and sweetly talking the information out of a prisoner over a cigarette (with a veiled threat that if he doesn't talk, Sam and Fiona will make it quick and painless) after a beating from Fiona doesn't work.
- Defied in the same vein in "Friends Like These" when money-launderer Barry Burkowski suggests using Electric Torture on one of the people who they think stole his records.
Barry: I heard you can attach them to a car battery, spark it up, and get—
Michael: Torture just gets you the fastest lie to make the pain stop.
- A first-season episode uses a "subject knows nothing" version when Michael poisons a peanut-allergic assassin with crushed peanuts on his dinner and then holds his Epi-pen just out of reach. The assassin does talk (and Michael administers the antidote and has Sam call the FBI to arrest the assassin) but Mike doesn't learn anything critically plot-important: he just gets confirmation that the CIA is no longer keeping his enemies at bay, which he already suspected.
- In a season five episode, Michael tortures a kidnapped yakuza human trafficker... because he's playing a rival gangster and is trying to set up Madeline as a sympathetic nurse the trafficker might open up to, rather than expecting the trafficker to talk to him. Mike does try to have Maddy drug the trafficker with hallucinogens, but she instead lets him convince her not to use the drugs and help him "escape" so Team Westen can follow him to the hideout.
- Defied in the same vein in "Friends Like These" when money-launderer Barry Burkowski suggests using Electric Torture on one of the people who they think stole his records.
- Jericho: When an interrogation gets a bit too intense for Jake, Hawkins reveals he was bluffing about the extent to which he was willing to go because he knows from personal experience that real torture only works in movies.
Jake: What were you gonna do?
Hawkins: To get the truth? Less than you would have. You see, I've done—I've done enough, Jake, to know better. It's the fear of torture that gets results. Actual torture...only works in the movies.
- Torture doesn't work often in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike endures torture for hours without giving up any information. When Angelus tortures Giles he won't break either, until Drusilla impersonates Jenny Calendar.
- Lost featured many torture scenes, most of which featured ex-torturer Sayid as the victim. In a few cases, the victim knew nothing. In others, the victim simply didn't break down. In one, Sayid eventually broke down, but he responded to the interrogator's attempts to attract sympathy rather than the torture.
- In an episode of Get Smart a retired spy living at an Old Spy Home is tortured for the whereabouts of his diary, in which he has written down many secret things, but he successfully resists.
- In an episode of Bones the Victim of the Week was a Salary Man paper-pusher at the CIA who investigates a diamond smuggling operation on his own after his superiors didn't think there was anything to it. He is killed by torture but never gives up the info they were after. CIA agents point out that even most well-trained field agents would crack under what he was subjected to. After the crime is solved, he is given a star on the CIA "Killed in Action" wall even though his position didn't qualify for that honor.
- Played with in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Chain of Command". Picard tells his Cardassian captor Gul Madred that torture has historically been an ineffective way of obtaining information, and in this case, it also helped that Picard didn't know the specific information they wanted (Federation defense plans for a disputed planet). However, in this particular case, the interrogation instead becomes about Madred's pride in his craft as a Torture Technician, and he quickly stops caring about what Picard knows or doesn't know, instead becoming obsessed with proving that he can break the strong-willed Picard mentally. At the end of the episode, Picard confesses to Troi that he had indeed been broken by the end of his imprisonment: only being informed of his freedom at the last second brought him back to his senses long enough to shout defiance at his captor.
- Stargate SG-1:
- In "The Devil You Know", Apophis uses drug-induced hallucinations to try and get information out of SG-1 and Martouf. SG-1 doesn't talk, while Martouf gives false information to stop Apophis from killing Carter to get him to talk.
- In "Talion", Teal'c tortures a man involved in several bombings against the Free Jaffa Nation but gets little useful information. In prior episodes, his technique of sitting across the table from the prisoner and simply glaring at them until they talk was a hell of a lot more effective.
- Babylon 5:
- Near the end of the Shadow War the Centauri capture G'Kar, and Emperor Cartagia starts torturing him for fun. G'Kar does his damnedest to ruin the Emperor's fun by remaining unbowed and even refusing to scream, except when Londo convinces him to do so to keep Cartagia from killing him and screwing up their Batman Gambit to assassinate him and free Narn.
- After Sheridan is captured by President Clark's forces, he's tortured psychologically and electrically in order to get him to confess to being a traitor to Earth. This was shown to work on other prisoners—ISN at one point broadcasts propaganda videos of several people blearily and unconvincingly confessing and naming others—but Sheridan holds out long enough for Garibaldi and the Mars Resistance to rescue him.
- An episode of Scorpion has an Air Force pilot crash in the Balkans and be taken prisoner by Serbian gangsters who want the password to his plane's computer. Despite beatings and Electric Torture he does nothing but repeat name, rank, and serial number to the point where the leader starts complaining that he's memorized it. The torture is briefly equally ineffective on the Navy SEAL sent with the Scorpion crew to rescue the flyboy. Then Walter convinces the gangster that he can hack the computer open without the password, and promptly reformats the drive to get rid of the data for good.
- In the Firefly episode "War Stories", Adelai Niska captures Mal and Wash and tortures them continuously for several hours (as punishment for breaking off a deal in "The Train Job" and throwing his top enforcer into their engine) before Serenity's crew buys Wash free and then storms Niska's Space Station to break Mal out. Mal more or less laughs off Niska's torture because he's The Determinator, and also distracts Wash by arguing with him about Zoe to keep him from breaking.
- In Revolution, Rachel has been a prisoner of the Monroe Republic for years already at the start of the series, and her torture is alluded to multiple times but conversations between her and Monroe show that she has never given up any information.
- NUMB3RS: It's almost a throwaway moment, but in the episode "Thirteen", Megan experiences a flashback in which a man is screaming and she's yelling "That's enough! He'll say anything you want to hear!". A later conversation with Colby suggests that she was forced to be involved in the torture of detainees suspected of terrorism, implying that the memory she was reliving was from that assignment.
- Played for laughs in "Knockdown". Ryan and Esposito are captured by an ex-Special Forces Elite Mook and tortured by being ducked in ice-cold water. Ryan snarks to his torturer that he went to Catholic school and they used to do that to him for talking in class. Meanwhile, Esposito, himself a retired Green Beret, goes:
"Listen to me. You're too late. The cops already know everything about... me and your mom." (he and Ryan bust out laughing)
- Beckett is similarly tortured by Vulcan Simmons in a later episode when an undercover operation goes south but passes out before revealing any information.
- Played for laughs in "Knockdown". Ryan and Esposito are captured by an ex-Special Forces Elite Mook and tortured by being ducked in ice-cold water. Ryan snarks to his torturer that he went to Catholic school and they used to do that to him for talking in class. Meanwhile, Esposito, himself a retired Green Beret, goes:
- An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has a judge asking Elliot Stabler, off the books, to get a dying inmate to reveal where he buried the judge's son, who he had confessed to murdering decades earlier. Stabler coerces the inmate to talk by cutting off his supplementary oxygen supply, but the information the man gives up turns out to be false, leading the judge to comment that "One should always be wary of information obtained by force." It's later revealed that in reality he couldn't give them what they wanted, because he didn't actually kill the victim; he added the judge's son to his body count just to torment the parents. The judge had started to suspect, and asked Elliot to investigate in hopes that, if he hadn't done it, he might finally admit as much under pressure.
- Madam Secretary:
- Discussed in the season 1 finale. In a flashback of Liz McCord's CIA days, she's trying to halt the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on terrorism suspects, and authors a memo intended to appeal to the Enlightened Self-Interest of the Bush Administration by focusing on torture's inefficiency rather than its immorality.
- In "The Rusalka", Henry McCord has his own mole in the Russian Army kidnapped and put through the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique as a Secret Test of Character. Dmitri Petrov holds up despite having been very drunk when they grabbed him.
- 24 had some cases of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique failing Jack Bauer later in the series. Enforced after a general who teaches at West Point complained to the writers that the Army didn't like the ideas their cadets were getting from the show.
- In one episode of Nikita, Nikita needs the name of a terrorist from a captured former agent of Amanda's, and her first instinct is to beat him until he gives her the name. However, he remains stubborn, not giving her the information until she figures out what he wants and trades it for the information.
- In a TekWar episode, the police use a modified lie detector as a torture device. It works on the first criminal but the mastermind gave him unreliable information. The second person it was used on didn't give out information because she feared for her life, and entered a panic attack before needing medical treatment.
- Downplayed early in the Sci-Fi Channel Earthsea miniseries. King Tygath has his men torture information about a prophecy out of a captured wizard but they're only partially successful because the prisoner dies in the middle of it. Tygath beheads the torturer for incompetence since all he got on the prophesied wizard's identity was a riddle.
- The Battlestar Galactica (2003) episode "Flesh and Bone" has Starbuck attempt to get the location of a nuke planted in the fleet out of a captured Cylon infiltrator, Leoben, with beatings and Water Torture. Neither is successful. President Roslin apologizes for his treatment and simply asks Leoben where the bomb is, and he admits he made it all up to stall for time since he's too far from any Cylon ship to reincarnate.
- In Heroes, Sylar captures a soldier, nails him into a chair, beats him bloody, and eventually threatens to torture civilians in front of him. Sylar had gained Living Lie Detector powers, so at least the soldier couldn't lie his way out of it; however, the guy still never gives Sylar the information he wants, and probably didn't have it anyway.
- Reaper: The Devil, of all people, discovers this. One damned soul has been escaping hell with even more ease than normal, so the Devil starts torturing demons to find the culprit. He finds the culprit, the leak is plugged, he starts celebrating... and Sam points out that he saw the soul in question less than an hour ago. The Devil muses that maybe pulling out someone's fingernails isn't the best way to obtain information since they'll tell you whatever you want to hear to make you stop.
- An early episode of Better Call Saul has Jimmy being kidnapped by gangster head Tuco who thinks he might know something about their operation. As it turns out, he doesn't, but when he tells them the truth (he's just an unsuccessful lawyer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time pulling a low-level scam), Tuco just keeps up the torture. However, when he starts making up a story on the spot about being an FBI agent investigating them as part of a special operation, Tuco totally believes him. One of Tuco's subordinates wisely points out that Jimmy isn't telling the truth, he's just saying whatever might make Tuco stop trying to cut his finger off.
- In the Star Wars Radio Dramas version of A New Hope, we're actually shown the torture scene left out of the film. Vader uses drugs and the Force to torture Leia, first trying to make her think he's her adoptive father Bail Organa and that she succeeded in her mission to bring the Death Star plans to Alderaan, then just inflicting pain. He nearly kills her but she doesn't crack.
- The Book of Vile Darkness for 3E Dungeons & Dragons included rules for torture that increased one's susceptibility to Bluff checks by how successful the torture was. In other words, the better you are at getting the subject to say anything at all, the more likely you are to fall for them lying.
- Zig Zagged Trope in GURPS. Using threats or torture gives a bonus to Interrogation checks. Interrogation checks are opposed by the victim's will, allowing a badass enough character to withstand it. Then there's the possibility of interrogating someone who genuinely doesn't know anything, and if he critically fails his will roll, he believes his own lies, so magical lie detection and the like won't prevent the interrogator from getting a false result.
- Zigzagged in Warhammer 40,000, where the mere mention of the Inquisition is often enough to get criminals to confess. One of their methods of getting information is going over the list of planned tortures with the prisoner, before moving on to its actual implementation. Problem is, torturing prisoners fails if they're part of a Nurglite (who don't feel pain) or Slaaneshi (who get off on pain) cult, while genestealer hybrids are part of a Hive Mind which ensures they'll never talk.
- In Lope de Vega's play Fuenteovejuna, everyone in the Fuenteovejuna village is tortured by orders of the magistrate to make them reveal who killed the cruel and abusive Commander. No one gives in, and instead they say "Fuenteovejuna did it". They're pardoned by the Reye Católicos themselves.
- Knights of the Old Republic:
- When the Ebon Hawk is captured by Sith Admiral Saul Karath's flagship after the acquisition of the third Plot Coupon, the Player Character, Carth Onasi, and Bastila Shan are tortured by electrocution. It's only as effective as the player wants it to be, since the PC is the only one being questioned (it's a "talk and I'll stop hurting your friends, too" thing), and the scene is formatted mechanically as a conversation with options to say nothing, lie, or tell the truth.
- Subverted when Darth Malak takes Bastila prisoner. In a cutscene, he tortures her with Force Lightning not to get information, but to break her spirit and allow him to turn her to the Dark Side. He succeeds, and Bastila becomes your opponent in a Mini-Boss battle in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
- In Spycraft: The Great Game the player is given the option of using an old Soviet torture device to get information out of a suspect. The suspect's file warns that her history of painful abuse could make torture ineffective and sure enough, it is. The best option with her is psychological manipulation.
- Done anviliciously in Grand Theft Auto V. The person is not only perfectly willing to talk, but he is also completely innocent of any crime save happening to know a suspected terrorist. Trevor, the torturer himself, even tells his victim later on that he's aware that torture is typically ineffective and the only thing he gets out of it is a good time.
- Mass Effect:
- Mass Effect 2:
Garrus: You don't even get good information that way. After a point, victims admit to anything to make the pain stop.
- Given a nod on the Prison Ship Purgatory. When you find a prisoner being beaten, your entire squad, almost all of whom are otherwise willing to engage in Dirty Business, write it off as immoral, petty, or just pointless. It turns out the guards aren't even trying to get information - the prisoner killed someone the warden could have sold for a lot of money.
Legion: The subject will invent fiction it believes the interrogator desires. Data acquired will be invalid.
- In Thane's loyalty mission, there's a series of Renegade Interrupts to try to beat information out of a crime boss. Beating on him doesn't produce any information: the subject in fact almost encourages it. The options that work all involve talking the information out of him: Paragon Shepard playing "bad cop" is a Guile Hero and tricks him into giving up the goods, a high-level Renegade can scare him into it with a Breaking Speech on the first interrupt, or you can wait for his lawyer to arrive and point out that as a Council Spectre you're legally allowed to kill his client without consequence, at which point the lawyer advises his client to tell you whatever you want to know.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda:
- A sidequest on Voeld has Ryder discover an angara torturing a Kett Chosen for information but not getting anything (it's implied that the kett is too tough to torture). Ryder has the option to Mercy Kill the kett and put an end to it.
- Logs found on the Kett Archon's flagship reveal that when the Archon tortured Moshae Sjefa to find information about a Remnant artifact, it didn't work because she didn't know anything about it.
- Mass Effect 2:
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: In the Sith Warrior storyline, Darth Baras tries to torture information out of a captured Republic spy to no avail, then sends his apprentice (the Player Character) on a quest to hunt down some Lost Technology he thinks may make the spy crack.
- It's somewhat of a motif that sooner or later your character is going to get caught and have to undergo Electric Torture for information in the Metal Gear franchise. To date, none of the badass protagonists have given up information in any of the three games. Even Sokolov, who has a family, refused to talk. You'd think Ocelot would have learned the old "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." adage, but alas.
- Volgin in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is undoubtedly the worst interrogator ever. His only method seems to be beating the prisoner to death in under 15 seconds while telling them all of his information. Ocelot actually applauds Snake for surviving just one session, and the Philosopher's Legacy Volgin was trying to protect winds up in the hands of America thanks to him telling everyone in the room, all of whom were spies for another country, exactly where it was.
- Revolutionaries torturing Severin Cocorico in Aviary Attorney don't even get his name out of him, he's that stoic under pressure.
- In Yakuza 0, Tetsu Tachibana eventually ends up captured by the Dojima Family and undergoes severe torture that he manages to resist; even after his torturer finishes pulverizing his toes (which are filled with nerve bundles) with a sledgehammer, he still manages to taunt them that they won't get anything out of him. His torturer Kuze is at least experienced enough to know when to stop and try something else, but his lackey Yoneda ends up getting riled up and smashes Tachibana's head with the hammer, thus killing him, while denying the Dojima Family the information they sought dying. Kuze is not happy.
- The Order of the Stick: Redcloak and Xykon torture the captured Azure City paladin O'Chul for weeks to try and get information on the Snarl from him. O'Chul sincerely doesn't know squat, and despite the torture, he retains the presence of mind to memorize Xykon's entire spell list, which he passes on to the Order of the Stick after he's freed (He is also able to befriend the Monster in the Darkness). Redcloak eventually realizes he's telling the truth, but deliberately neglects to tell Xykon this so he can stay in Azure City long enough to solidify the goblin stronghold. Xykon really just wants to have fun placing O'Chul in death traps more than actually get useful information about the Snarl.
- Parodied here in The Non-Adventures of Wonderella. The torturee essentially points out the flaws in a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, even referencing the show 24.
- Called out in Fans! where Rumy yells at her berserk subordinate that "Contrary to what you see on '24,' pain is not a Lasso of Truth."
- Sluggy Freelance: In "Torg Goes to Hell", the initial round of torture by the demons of the Dimension of Pain only makes Torg angry, instead of bending him to their will. The joke is that he's used to it because he's got the evilest "pet" bunny ever, who regularly beats him up.
- When Bill Cosby tries using electroshock to break Black Dynamite of his Blaxsploitation edge in Black Dynamite, Black Dynamite doesn't react in the slightest. When Bill Cosby demands that he smile, he simply answers "I am smiling," even though he is wearing the same scowl he always does.
- The Venture Bros.: On several occasions, Dr. Thaddeus Venture is captured by villains who decide to torture him for information or simply For the Evulz. They reasonably assume that, because Venture is a cowardly weakling, he will break at the slightest touch. They are proven wrong: thanks to Old Rusty's Hilariously Abusive Childhood as a Kid Sidekick, he's unfazed by their attempts to hurt him. In a few cases he almost pities his torturers, since compared to what he's been through, their best efforts are a joke.
- The Other Wiki has an entire article on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of torture here. Basically, it boils down to this: The torture doesn't necessarily stop when the person being tortured tells the truth. The torture stops when the person being tortured tells the person torturing them what they want to hear.
- During the Salem witch trials in American history, Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft. He refused to plead guilty or not guilty, and according to the laws of the time, someone who did not plead could not be tried. The solution was to torture the accused until they would plead, and the authorities began to place heavy boulders on Giles Corey, slowly crushing him to death. According to legend, he was in great pain for hours under the weight of several boulders, but the only words he would utter were "More weight!" In the end, he died, but his refusal to plead meant the state could not take possession of Corey's property, allowing his children to inherit his estate. Dramatized in Arthur Miller's 1953 play The Crucible.
- In December 2014 the United States Senate published part of a report on the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" under the George W. Bush administration, which Barack Obama promptly banned after taking office in 2009. They came to the conclusion that the CIA drastically overstated how effective the techniques were at getting information out of prisoners. The CIA disagreed. More from NPR here. Later Donald Trump said on the 2016 campaign trail that he wanted to bring back the use of torture, but after winning the election was reportedly dissuaded by his Defense Secretary pick, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis. Trump quoted Mattis as telling him, "Give me two beers and a pack of cigarettes and I'll do better."
- One interrogator advised utilizing Stockholm Syndrome when it came to interrogating terrorists. Because the suspect had been informed of all the evils that would be perpetrated if they were captured, kindness would make them question their worldview, rather than reinforcing it through torture.
- During World War II, German interrogator Hanns Scharff was well known for getting extremely accurate information out of prisoners, simply by treating them decently. Scharff firmly believed torture was useless and had no love for the Nazis. One of his most effective techniques was simply telling the truth: if the prisoner did not give him any useful information, then the Gestapo or the SS would take over. Scharff was so good that after the war he traveled to the United States to work with the Department of Defense on honing interrogation techniques for use by American forces.
- Even the actual, medieval Inquisition knew that torture was unreliable, which is why the confessions extracted under torture weren't admissible in their trials unless the accused had confirmed them later while not being tortured. Of course, failure to confirm would result in another round of torture, so the system wasn't exactly humane or sensible. Still, compared to the (much worse note ) torture that was habitually used by all secular courts across Europe throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance (where a confession normally wasn't legal UNLESS it had been given after/under torture, and people generally couldn't be convicted of witnessless crimes without a confession, so torture was part of the standard procedure), the Inquisition was at least trying to be reasonable. There's a reason why all Church employees and all university students had the privilege of being tried by special Church courts for any crime they might commit, even if it was just the students being drunken and disorderly: far less risk of physical punishment than under the jurisdiction of whatever petty local ruler tried to keep order with an iron fist. In England, it led to the "benefit of clergy" which exempted them from capital punishment too. This evolved into a legal fiction whereby any first-time offender could plead that they were a clergy member and then receive lesser sentences for some offenses.