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Torture Is Ineffective

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...what? He's only trying to help.

"A lot of people's first instinct when they need information out of a captive is to grab a baseball bat or a gun. The fact is, torture is for sadists and thugs. It's like getting groceries with a flamethrower: it doesn't work, and it makes a mess."
Michael Westen, Burn Notice, "Comrades"

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. Others may simply feel this is a more realistic portrayal of torture.

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, the torturer gives up, or the Cyanide Pill kicks in.
  • 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. One variation on this is for the "victim" to have gotten captured on purpose in order to use the expected interrogation to plant false information.
  • 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 can't tell anything about their accomplices because the latter deliberately kept them in the dark (specifically to avoid this), no matter how much they want to, but the torturer refuses to believe it.
  • The victim has to hold on and refuse to talk because the punishment for talking is many magnitudes worse than anything the torturer can cook up. This includes refusing to give up information that would harm someone else they hold dear, especially if they are being held hostage.
  • The victim of the torture is an innocent person who doesn't know anything (or maybe isn't entirely 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.
  • The victim does give in and tell the truth, but the torturer refuses to believe him because it doesn't fit in with the torturer's preconceptions.
  • The victim has the ability to Feel No Pain, and/or doesn’t process pain as anything more than an odd sensation. The torturer can do their worst, but the victim won't yield to the torture. Or the torturer tries invoking Cool and Unusual Punishment but it backfires because for whatever reason the victim isn't bothered by it.

This may lead to 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).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Blade of the Immortal: Hyakurin is captured by members of Ittou-ryuu and tortured severely for information, including repeated rapes that lead to her becoming pregnant. She refuses to give up any information and is eventually rescued by her comrade Giichi.
  • In Death Note, it's implied that L tortures Misa for information. She refuses to rat out Light, attempting suicide and even erasing her own memory to keep from saying anything incriminating. L releases her (though keeping her under surveillance) when he realizes that she won't talk, though her odd behavior makes him suspicious.
  • Killua in Hunter × Hunter is locked up in a dungeon for many days as punishment for his rebellion with Milluki acting as his torturer. He's not really bothered by the pain since he's used to it and even sleeps through a severe whipping, not even flinching even after Milluki harshly whips and burns his skin, and easily destroys his shackles when Zeno lets him go.
  • In Naruto, Rin Nohara was captured and tortured with genjutsu to force her to 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.
  • Played both ways in 'Tis Time for "Torture," Princess: the Princess always talks, but one of two things happens — either the information she gives is completely useless, or the Hell-Lord finds some excuse not to use the information anyway. As the series goes on, it becomes less common for the reader to find out what information was even given up, as the torture becomes less of an interrogation technique and more of a formality before giving the Princess something fun. (Did we forget to mention the torture includes such things as fluffy toast, video games, and the chance to feed a bunny a carrot?)
  • Played for laughs in Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. During their trial, the angels are found guilty and sentenced to death by electrocution. They're then immediately placed in iron-maiden like chambers that show only their faces. While Panty is clearly not enjoying the experience, Stocking is orgasming over it and then thanks the audience (after she gets free) for finding her guilty so she could enjoy the "Feel Good Chair".
  • In Vinland Saga, during the first major arc Danish mercenary leader Askeladd captures an English spy and tortures the guy, demanding to know what kind of reinforcements the English have. The spy has lost his wife and daughter to the Danish, however, so he's more than happy to resist Askeladd's torture out of sheer spite. He holds out until his reinforcements are about to attack Askeladd's force before he tells them anything, and then dies laughing at the panic among Askeladd's men when he finally tells them that his reinforcements are led by none other than Thorkell the Tall, who is basically the World's Strongest Man and leads a private army that could easily wipe out Askeladd's mercenaries.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 either torture or truth serum and thus didn't fear Diabolik as she knew he wouldn't harm her for no reason).
  • In the noir comic The Good Asian, a fixer tries beating the location of a blackmailer out of a woman, knowing she's connected to him, but not knowing that the blackmailer is in fact her half-brother and thus it's going to take a lot to get her to turn on him. She remains stubbornly defiant and then is accidentally killed when she futilely attempts to attack one of her captors. Worse, the thoughtless treatment of her and her unfortunate death results in the blackmailer going on a bloody revenge spree.
  • My Little Pony: Nightmare Knights: When Tempest Shadow is captured by Eris and Daybreaker and she refuses to tell what she knows, Eris decides to torture Tempest via Mind Rape, forcing her to relive the day she lost her horn, repeatedly, until she breaks. But this causes Tempest to have a panic attack, leaving her unable to say anything useful. Daybreaker grows impatient and tries to torture Tempest directly, but this breaks the spell and damages Daybreaker's Shock Collar.
  • The Punisher MAX:
    • 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.
    Frank: When he had no lies left in him- that's when I'd ask where he'd left my daughter.
  • 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."
  • In The Simping Detective, Jack is captured by local Mook Lieutenant Muggro Keevish and set upon by his uplifted apes. Jack's narration notes that attempting to beat information out of someone only works when that person has a chance to speak.

    Fan Works 
  • Bait and Switch (STO):
    • "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.
    • Two Sides of a Coin: Downplayed. Eleya interrogates a wounded Romulan soldier without success in part II but doesn't escalate any further than a Powered Armor-assisted slap due to time constraints.
      “Dhroi ehlrh!”note  But she just glares sullenly at me and I know I’m wasting my breath. Maybe if I had two months and a hole to dump her in until she started howling at the moons, but she’s too stubborn and too principled to get anything useful here, so I just zip-cuff her hands to her legs.
    • 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.
  • In Chapter 62 of BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant, Ironwood suggests the idea of torturing the then-captured Roman Torchwick for information regarding what his superiors (among which includes Terumi) are planning for Vale. Both Glynda and Ozpin shoot the idea down, pointing out that Roman would say anything to avoid the threat of violence, making whatever they could gain from him using such methods unreliable.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • In A Young Girl's Game of Thrones, Cersei has Loras tortured to try to break him and make him swear fealty to Joffrey, thinking this would make House Tyrell follow suit. This fails spectacularly when Loras shows his maiming to an open court, denounces Joffrey and declares for Stannis. Joffrey kills him in a rage, along with any chance for peace with the Reach.

    Films — Animated 
  • After Syndrome captures Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles, he uses Electric Torture to interrogate Mr. Incredible about who his homing beacon contacted, as Syndrome thought. However, Bob genuinely had no idea his suit even had a homing beacon to begin with, and it didn't send out any contact signal (it sent out his location at Helen's external prompting). Bob answers honestly every time, but Syndrome doesn't believe him and keeps upping the voltage.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avatar: The Way of Water: After Spider is taken prisoner by Colonel Quaritch, General Ardmore hooks him up to a machine that very painfully reads his brainwaves while she tries to get him to tell her the route to the hideout of the Na'vi resistance led by Jake Sully. She doesn't get anything from Spider but a lot of cursing, and Quaritch finally hits the shutoff on the machine lest Ardmore accidentally kill him. Quaritch later acts as the good cop, and while Spider still refuses to give up the resistance directly, Quaritch is able to talk him into acting as a native guide for his hunter unit.
  • 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 Blonde Savage, Berger delivers a savage beating to Blake who refuses to divulge any details of the native village.
  • 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.
  • 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 Rachel are, but intentionally switches their locations.
  • Deewaar: When Samant and his men torture Anita, they don't get the information they want.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. The threatened memory loss appears not to have worked.
  • 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.
  • 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 cooperate 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 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.
  • 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.
  • The Report: The movie makes the point that not only does torture not work, it also makes it harder to prosecute the suspects who are submitted to torture due to the illegality of the practice, along with damaging the US's global position (as someone points out, captured American personnel are at greater risk for being tortured themselves if captured when their government is known to do the same).
  • 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: "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!" 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. Of course, Blonde did say beforehand that he didn't give a shit what the cop knows or doesn't know, so it wouldn't be a useful bargaining chip anyway.
  • In a deleted scene from Sleepy Hollow, an inventor is hawking a "foolproof" interrogation device that resembles an iron maiden without spikes, claiming that a suspect placed inside it will suffer no permanent injury, but have no choice but to confess the truth. Constable Ichabod Crane traps him in the device, and refuses to release him unless he signs a confession to the murder of a body discovered the previous night in the river. Of course the inventor does so immediately, and Crane facetiously holds up the confession as "irrefutable proof" of the man's guilt. Considering that Crane's own mother was murdered with an iron maiden, he was keeping his reaction to the inventor's sales pitch remarkably under control.
  • Star Wars:
    • In A New Hope, Lieutenant Jir 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.

  • 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.
  • In The Book of Eve, the fanatical priest Abramo tries to torture the mother superior of the local convent into confessing to sinful behaviour, including corrupting the women under her care and worshipping a false god. Unfortunately for him, Mother Chiara used to be a famed ascetic who would mortify her own flesh and has consequently developed a high pain tolerance. As she tells her would-be rescuers, he can't do anything to her that's worse than what she did to herself. Until he finally snaps and murders her.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Beating up a time traveler mistaken for a spy in Driftless Wormhole fails because he isn't actually a spy and doesn't understand what he's being asked. It also results in him stubbornly clamming up and refusing to speak to anyone.
  • 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.
  • 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 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 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 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Bellatrix discovers that the trio has 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).
  • 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.
  • In his book ''Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets", author David Simon mentions that cops have beaten up suspects in days past, and sometimes do now, but the competent ones don't. Good information comes from a mix of incentivizing the suspect with hypothetical rewards or punishments and tricking them into playing themselves. Sometimes the tricks get quite elaborate, but they work.
  • 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 the first book of The 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.
  • The Dark Ones in Murderess fail to get any information from their prisoner Aucasis about her brother Hallwad’s whereabouts. While it’s likely she has no idea herself, she doesn’t even give them false information to get them to leave her alone.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • Played for Laughs in Tim Dorsey's novel The Stingray Shuffle, starring his recurring Anti-Hero Serge A. Storms: the cast of characters include a quintet of former Russian KGB or GRU operatives who were all reassigned to the torture squad because each of them had screwed up in some spectacularly memorable way and were deemed too stupid for any work involving actual intelligence.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
  • 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 the short story "A Thousand Deaths" by Orson Scott Card, the main character rather quickly ends up willing to cooperate with his torturers, who want him to read a speech on live television confessing to his crime and praising the government that arrested him. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the main character is a terrible liar and no matter how hard he tries, he just can't make the speech sound convincing...

    Live-Action TV 
  • On The 100, torture done to extract information never works. Lincoln just badasses their way through the torture, keeping so quiet that the 100 are convinced Lincoln can't speak English and doesn't even understand their questions. When Finn tries it on another Grounder in Season 2, the Grounder initially protests they don't know anything, before eventually telling Finn the village where Clarke is being held prisoner. Turns out, that Grounder really didn't know anything, and just pointed Finn at a village they had a grudge against.
    • However, torture works quite well for ALIE, as they're not looking for information, they just need people's consent to implant a computer chip in their brain. That the consent is given under duress doesn't matter; just keep torturing them until give in and say "yes", then ALIE can implant the chip and Mind Control them. Only difficulty they have is that some people hold out long enough, the torture kills them before they can give in.
  • 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.
  • 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. He is in pretty rough shape by that point, however.
  • 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 download and reincarnate when the humans kill him.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 uses her psychic powers on him to impersonate Jenny Calendar.
  • 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 simply kill him on the spot) after a beating from Fiona doesn't work.
    • Lampshaded in the first season episode "Wanted Man", when Michael offers to trade valuable information to a Libyan operative:
      Anwar: Why don't I just make you tell me and then kill you?
      Michael: (casually) You could do that. The information might or might not check out, torture is unreliable - as you know - and then you'd have to deal with Fiona, who put you in touch with me in the first place. More trouble than it's worth, trust me.
    • 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 in 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 protecting his identity or keeping his enemies at bay, which he already suspected.
    • In a season five episode, Michael tortures a kidnapped yakuza human trafficker... because Michael is pretending to be a gangster from a rival group, and is trying to set up a variation of the Good Cop/Bad Cop scenario, as he has Madeline pretending to be a nurse that Michael has abducted in order to keep the yakuza alive until Michael can get information from the man. Michael doesn't expect the yakuza to talk to him (and indeed the guy shows no sign of breaking throughout the ordeal), but he does hope that Madeline can either get the guy to say something in confidence or for her to otherwise manipulate him. Sure enough, eventually the yakuza "convinces" poor frightened nurse Madeline to help him escape when he offers to have his friends protect her from Michael the scary gangster. They then "escape" together and Madeline drives them both to the yakuza's hideout, with Michael and the rest of Team Westen following close behind them.
  • Castle:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 The Great Peter tries to find out who's trying to kill him by having the entire court tortured. While the conspirators are included, they know in advance that he has no idea who it really is and will be stopping after a few minutes (unless they confess, in case it would probably go on a lot longer), so obviously none of them give up anything.
  • 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.
  • Intergalactic: Emma Grieves was tortured for seventeen years but she never gave up information.
  • Jericho (2006): 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.
  • 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 was a serial killer who had already racked up enough charges on the things he actually did that adding one more wouldn't make any practical difference, so he falsely claimed the judge's son as one of his victims just to torment the parents. The judge had in fact started to suspect the "confession" might not be legitimate and asked Elliot to investigate in hopes that, if the man hadn't done it, he might finally admit as much under pressure, but instead the guy just gave Elliot a location to get him to leave him alone.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!"note . A later conversation with Colby indicates that she was forced to be involved in the torture of detainees suspected of terrorism, suggesting that the memory she was reliving was from that assignment.
  • One Piece (2023); When intimidation doesn't work, Buggy decides to torture Luffy into giving up the location of the Grand Line map the Straw Hats stole from Axe Hand Morgan. His torture methods are fairly inefficient- Luffy's Rubber Man body means stretching him on a rack just makes him laugh, and he holds out in the Drowning Pit long enough for Nami and Zoro to recover their weapons and break him out.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stranger Things:
    • The Soviets have Hopper for a year, and their torture of him doesn't get them any of the information they're trying to get him to divulge. It helps that their questions are based on their own misinformation, thinking Joyce is an American agent of some type rather than a concerned mother.
    • The agent Sullivan is torturing has still not given up any information, despite days of non-stop torture. It's not that he doesn't know anything, his partner knew of the Nina Project so surely he does too, nor is it because he's too tough to crack as he's clearly a broken mess from it. But the experience is so traumatic it's caused him to clam up and be unable to answer any basic questions, let alone a complex one like where Eleven is.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: In one Spaceman Spiff Imagine Spot, Spiff is captured by Muck Monsters who take him to their dungeon to extract information from their uncooperative captive. Spiff boasts that he is impervious to pain, but it turns out they have something much worse in mind for him than physical torture...
    Spaceman Spiff: Hey, what kind of dungeon is this?! Aren't you going to torture me?
    Yukbarf Alien: Oh yes! Have a seat and let's see how you withstand a calm discussion of wholesome principles!
    (Cutting Back to Reality)
    Calvin: AAAUGH!
    Calvin's Dad: Yes, life is tough and suffering builds character. Nothing worth having ever comes easy. Virtue is its own reward. And when I was your age...

  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition: The Book of Vile Darkness 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.

    Video Games 
  • Revolutionaries torturing Severin Cocorico in Aviary Attorney don't even get his name out of him, he's that stoic under pressure.
  • 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:
      • Given a nod on the Prison Ship Purgatory. When they find a prisoner being beaten, Shepard's entire squad — almost all of whom are willing to engage in Dirty Business — write it off as immoral, petty, or just pointless. The guards aren't even trying to get information - the prisoner killed someone the warden could have sold for a lot of money. Even Token Evil Teammate Zaeed objects to it, though more out of pragmatism than anything else since he says that torturing someone will just make them say what you want to hear, and that it's just a waste of time. Shepard is able to convince them to cut it out with minimal convincing and the guards admit that they find the process tiring.
        Garrus: You don't even get good information that way. After a point, victims admit to anything to make the pain stop.
        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 almost encourages it, believing that it'll just get Shepard in more trouble (having not realized that Shepard is a Spectre and therefore above the law. 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 Shepard can wait for his lawyer to arrive and point out that, as a Council Spectre, Shepard can legally kill everyone in the room without consequence, at which point the lawyer advises his client to tell Shepard what they 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, aside from just plain not knowing the information she wants, is either too tough to torture or, given how long she's apparently been at it, too far gone to give any coherent response). 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.
  • 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. Of course, given that this is Ocelot we're talking about here, it's possibly deliberate; He intentionally kills Donald Anderson this way to preserve his own cover.
    • 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • 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.
    • Star Wars: The Old Republic:
      • Imperial players of any class can express this view during the Taris storyline while observing a bit-part Sith Lord who has fitted a prisoner with a Shock Collar.
        Player Character: Pain twists the truth. He'd say anything to avoid your torment.
      • In the Imperial Agent storyline, Cipher Nine once intentionally gets themself captured and tortured in order to plant falsified intelligence to which the Ancient Conspiracy will be forced to react.
      • 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.
      • Played for Black Comedy in the Smuggler storyline. When told about Nok Drayen's terminal illness, the Smuggler can comment that they've heard Jedi can heal almost anything. Drayen replies that the three he captured and tortured to death were not forthcoming on that front.
  • 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.
  • 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 (as well as knowing that you need to give the victim some time to recover), 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. Kuze is not happy.

    Web Animation 
  • Helluva Boss: During their interrogation by DHORKS in "Truth Seekers", Moxxie tries to head off any torture attempts by pointing out that they might just say something to make it stop with no real way of determining whether it's true. While Blitzo suggests they might actually enjoy it. They resort to flooding the room with Truth Serum, which only causes the imps to experience intense hallucinations, and the agents get no useful information before Millie and Loona arrive to rescue them.

  • 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."
  • Looking for Group: Richard is a lich, so he pretty much can't feel pain. When he's tortured at one point, the torturer racks him and sticks him full of blades. Richard's response is to helpfully tell the baffled Torture Technician, "There's some room by my calf."
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Invoked by Serini Toormuck here: she refuses to explain the security measures on Kraagor's Gate to the Order, on the grounds that if they attack Xykon and lose, they won't be able to reveal the information if interrogated.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • After the main character of Nothing Like The Sun finds out that her whole life was a lie and she was created just as a joke by two writers with delusions of godhood, she snaps and starts torturing the people responsible, in an attempt to force them to undo everything they have done. However, her authors are unable to alter her world while they are in it, and refuse to get rid of her Blessed with Suck glowing eyes even when they are returned to their own world, so she eventually realizes that it would be pointless to continue, and stops. She gets what she wants in the end, because she bribes one of the authors.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 Boondocks: "A Date With the Health Inspector" has the Freeman brothers enlist the help of Gin Rummy and Ed Wuncler III to track down a killer whose crime Tom has been framed for. The four go to the street where the murder took place. Gin and Ed try to get answers by ambushing and beating up the residents but gain no information. Huey and Riley, on the other hand, are able to learn of the killer's residence simply by interviewing witnesses.
  • One early season cutaway gag on Family Guy shows the Griffins locked up inside a torture chamber with Peter having his back whipped by the dungeon master. Peter's completely unfazed, quipping it feels like he's been bitten by a mosquito before telling Lois "If you happen to see the Dungeon Master, can you tell him his grandma was trying to work me over?"
  • In one episode of Metalocalypse, the Metal Masked Assassin is seen torturing a Klokateer for information, only for said Klokateer to begin laughing. When asked about the reason for the laughter, he explains that he just took a Cyanide Pill.
  • One Robot Chicken sketch has the nerd accidentally hacking into the nuclear launch system and get waterboarded by CIA agents who are convinced he's working for a foreign power, which leads to the USA declaring war on Mordor.
  • There's a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons where Homer is taken to Hell where he's given the "ironic" torture of being forced to eat a roomful of donuts, which doesn't bother him one bit.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In the episode "Jedi Night", Governor Pryce tortures Hera to try and get the location of the rest of the rebel cell, despite the electroshock sessions and the "truth serum" injections, Hera gives her nothing.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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. It's actually common for someone being tortured to knowingly lie and say what the torturer wants to hear after getting broken to the point that they just want the torture to stop at any cost.
  • 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.
  • During a 1620s witch hunt in the Holy Roman Empire, the Duke of Brunswick, Frederick Ulrich, became skeptical of the use of torture to elicit confessions and tested his hypothesis by inviting two Jesuits overseeing the Inquisition who defended the practice to him to witness a woman being racked. He told the prisoner he suspected the two men of being warlocks, and the woman promptly accused the Jesuits of witchcraft. The Duke then facetiously suggested the baffled Jesuits in turn be tortured for confessions. One of these men, Friedrich Spee, published a book titled Cautio Criminalis in 1631 that helped end the witch scares and influenced the abolition of torture in Europe and the Americas, including the passage of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lieutenant Marcus McDilda was a USAF fighter pilot who was shot down over Osaka shortly after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The Japanese tortured him in an attempt to discover how many more nukes America had and didn't believe him when he said he didn't know anything. So, not only did he say there were a hundred more that would be dropped on Tokyo and Kyoto (the only Japanese cities he knew), he gave a completely nonsensical technobabble explanation of how the bomb worked to make his story more convincing. They believed every word he said, and considered him a VIP as they transferred him to Tokyo to verify his claims. This saved his life, as the POWs in Osaka were executed after the announcement of Japan's surrender.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Torture Doesnt Work, Torture Never Works


Michael negotiates with Anwar

"Wanted Man". Michael offers to trade favors with a Libyan spy: he offers to tell them who blew up a gas depot a few years ago in exchange for them messing with the man who signed off on his burn notice. Anwar suggests he could just torture Michael, who replies, "You could do that. The information might or might not check out -- torture is unreliable, as you know -- and then you'd have to deal with Fiona, who put me in touch with you. More trouble than it's worth, trust me."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

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Main / SimpleSolutionWontWork

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