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Water Torture

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"I was strapped to a pallet and laid at an angle with a cloth placed over my mouth. My arms and legs were tied, and we had agreed a signal that when it became too much I would bang my arms on my legs. You start to breathe in and out, but when the water just fills everywhere up it just hits you. It changed my opinion completely. I realised that it really is a form of torture that shouldn't be used. I only lasted five to ten seconds, and the sound of my voice crying out to stop isn't me acting. The psychological damage of doing that to someone for even a minute would be indescribable."
Spooks actor Richard Armitage on being waterboarded for the series 7 premiere, via the Daily Mail

As You Know, humans cannot breathe water, so drowning is both painful and frightening. Torturers will therefore sometimes use water as an instrument of torture.

There are three typical ways this is done:

  • Dunking the victim in water, frequently ice water to increase the pain. This is common in live-action media since all it really requires of the actor being "tortured" is for him to hold his breath for a few seconds at a time and pretend to struggle.
  • Waterboarding, made famous in the 2000s by the controversy over the Bush-era CIA's so-called "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques", involves pouring water over a cloth held over the face of the subject. (Descended from the "water cure", used most infamously more than a century earlier by American soldiers on Filipinos in the Philippine-American War c .1898-1902note . That variant involved simply pouring gallons of water directly into the victim's throat and then jumping or applying pressure on their stomach to make them throw it all back up.)
  • The semi-legendary Chinese water torture involves restraining the victim and slowly dripping water onto them. This is reputed to drive the subject insane.

The obvious disadvantage of this method of torture is that it's more than possible for an inept torturer to accidentally kill the victim rather than make them talk.

See also Electric Torture for another common tool of torture. Compare Swirlie, which is a variant of the ducking method typically done by school bullies with a toilet. May overlap with Drowning Pit. This can be a form of Sinister Suffocation.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Fist of the North Star: After battling Mad Sarge, Kenshiro struck a Pressure Point that forced Sarge to walk backwards and into a tank of water, where Ken submerged his head until Sarge gave up who was behind the forces of Godland. All this was eventually revealed to be a setup as even when the Sarge told, he was informed that he was already dead. Cue kaboom.
  • Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka: When Nozomi Makino is kidnapped and subjected to several forms of Cold-Blooded Torture, one of them was a captor with Making a Splash powers suspending water in the air to waterboard her without a cloth.
  • One Piece: In Momo's flashback in Dressrosa arc, he saw Doflamingo dunking one of his peons' head into a drum of water for failing him.
  • Queen's Blade: In the Vanquished Queens OVAs, when Tomoe is captured by Dogura, one of the torture methods that she's repeatedly subjected to is being suspended upside-down and submerged completely in water for several seconds at a time.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in Trolls de Troy, where trolls (and humans raised by trolls) have water poured over them but they treat it as an inhuman torture (trolls have a severe case of species-wide Hates Baths).

    Fan Works 
  • Drown starts with Tim chained in a water filled tub with the mobster questioning him dunking his head under the water every time he doesn't get the answers he wants.
  • Emael Mosekhesailho: When Sahuel is arrested by the Tal'Shiar for breaking into classified files, she's subjected to drugs, waterboarding, and Electric Torture in quick succession, while all the while her captors demand to know who she's spying for.
  • Mass Effect: Murphy's Law: Sean, the main character, employs waterboarding during his interrogation of Lynda Embry as revenge for all the people she got killed aboard Aldrin Station earlier in the story.
  • Happens to Greg in the CSI fic “Hell’s Crossroads”. It haunts Nick when he goes to wash his face and the sound of the water running panics Greg.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Shrek, Lord Farquaad has the Gingerbread Man dunked in milk (in addition to dismemberment) to get him to talk.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Amigo, a film about the little-known Philippine-American War, features the original "water cure" precursor to waterboarding: U.S. troops force gallons of water down the throat of a native-Filipino village chief, to give up the location of a rebel base led by his own brother, an officer in the Philippine Revolutionary Army which the Americans are fighting.
  • Ballistic Kiss has Cat (Donnie Yen) subjected to a waterboarding after a Frame-Up from his supposed friend. His captors then urinates on him afterwards for good measure.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, Zemo has captured a Hydra agent and is preparing to torture him. He hangs the Hydra agent upside down with the guy's head in a sink that is slowly filling up with water. If the guy talks, Zemo will pull his head above the water level but otherwise will let the guy struggle to stop himself from drowning. The trope is subverted before the torture can even begin because the Hydra agent yells a final "Hail Hydra" and deliberately lets himself drown.
  • In A Clockwork Orange, there's a scene in which Alex gets arrested by two police officers (who used to be his fellow partners-in-crime, and they still behave like criminals). They beat up Alex and then forcibly dunk his head in a pig trough filled with water for a minute, nearly drowning him to death.note 
  • The Expendables has a brief scene of Munroe waterboarding Girl of the Week Sandra.
  • James Bond films:
    • Diamonds Are Forever: After Bambi and Thumper throw Bond into a pool and dive in after him, he turns the tables on them and holds their heads underwater until Thumper shows him where Willard Whyte is being held.
    • The Teaser of Die Another Day closes on the North Koreans ducking Bond in ice water to make him talk, which blends into the opening credits.
  • The Groundstar Conspiracy: The protagonist (who has lost his memory) is captured by the villains, who torture him by strapping him to a board and dunking his head under water. The villains are trying to force him to regain his memory so that they can obtain vital information from him. One wonders why they don't just hit him over the head.
  • In Iron Man, when Tony Stark is abducted by terrorists who want access to his weapons technology, one of the methods of persuasion they use is ducking his head in water. It's a bit more dangerous here because Tony has an electromagnet in his chest powered by a car battery at the time.
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight: Samantha is strapped to a water wheel and repeatedly submerged into freezing cold water by the villain in an attempt to gain information from her.
  • The Man Who Came Back: When the Warden recaptures the escaped Paxton on the shores of the lake, he has his guards hold Paxton down and repeatedly shove his head underwater: holding him down a little bit longer each until all the fight is taken out of him.
  • The Mother is torturing a Cuban gangster for the whereabouts of her kidnapped daughter. After beating him with barbed wire handwraps doesn't work, she pulls his shirt over his face, breaks the neck off a bottle of beer and pours it over the shirt (apparently the fizz makes the wounds hurt more). That gets him talking, but when he taunts him about what the captors will do to her daughter, she knocks him off the chair and his neck gets impaled on the broken beer bottle.
  • In RocknRolla, London Gangster Lenny Cole likes to torment people he's questioning by dunking them underwater with voracious crayfish for a minute at a time or more.
  • Salt opens with the titular character waterboarded by North Korean soldiers after being suspected as a spy, despite her protests.
  • In Transit, Marek attempts to extract the location of the bag of stolen cash from Nate by repeatedly showing him face down into the bayou: holding down slightly longer each time.
  • In Tropic Thunder, Tugg Speedman believes the opioid syndicate he's been captured by is composed of actors he's meant to play off of as a captured POW. When one of them attempts to offer him some tea to make his incarceration easier, he goes full Enforced Method Acting and kicks the guy in the gut. Understandably pissed off, he has the rest of the gang tie Speedman by his wrists to a wooden beam and continually dunk his entire body into a tub of water feet-first.
  • The informant from Undeclared War is interrogated while hanging from his heels and having his head lowered in a tall keg filled with water, until he spills the beans.
  • The waterboarding variant is how Bryan interrogates Stuart after capturing him in Taken 3.

  • Bathtub Talk: The main character ties a man down in his own bathtub and slowly lets it fill with water in order to make the man talk about who is clients are in an illegal pornography ring. Even after he tells her what she wants to know, all she does is turn the water on all the way and then leaves the man in the tub as it fills with water.
  • "The Drink" is a form of torture in Beka Cooper. Beka mentions that she nearly quit after having a mild form demonstrated on her, and only stayed when reassured that you had to volunteer to be a Cage Dog (the ones who administer torture during interrogations).
  • The Crowner John Mysteries: In Crowner's Quest, John extracts the information he needs from a squire by having Gwyn repeatedly dunk his head in a frozen horse trough, holding his head under slightly longer each time until he talks.
  • In The Lost Symbol, the villain tortures Langdon into solving the last puzzle for him by placing him in a coffin and slowly filling it with water. This is especially bad for Langdon, since he also has severe claustrophobia.
  • In Shards of Honor, Cordelia repeatedly dunks the head of her psychologist (who wants to force her into a rather severe treatment program) into the aquarium in order to find out how many guards she had brought.
  • In Requiem for an Assassin, rogue CIA agent Jim Hilger waterboards Dox for information on how to contact John Rain. Though Dox had been trained to resist torture including waterboarding, it only takes minutes to break him.
  • Travis McGee novel The Long Lavender Look: After Travis captures the villainess Lilo Perris, ties her up and leaves her unattended, she is interrogated for information offscreen (by putting her head in a bucket of water) and drowned after she gives up the desired information.
  • In Twelve Days, Olympia's kidnappers waterboard her after her first escape attempt. They threaten to do it to her son Hannibal if she doesn't behave.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 3%, Ezequiel, the leader of The Process, has this kind of torture as his favorite, using a Drowning Pit to torture members of The Cause and even diving his head in a overflowing sink to punish himself.
  • The 4400: In "The New World", NSA Agent Wood waterboards Gary Navarro in order to determine what he knows about the Nova Group and what it is planning for October 19.
  • All the Light We Cannot See: Ruthless Nazi von Rumpel does the "dunk their head in seawater" version to Marie-Laure as he demands information on the Sea of Flames. She pretends to have drowned for a minute before striking him and escaping.
  • Arrow: One of the Season 3 episodes features a flashback to Oliver Queen's time in Hong Kong. After a mission goes badly wrong, Amanda Waller captures Oliver and has him tortured by waterboarding for the Yamashiro family's location. Ollie endures ten minutes without talking, but gives in when Waller threatens to have his sister Thea killed. Turns out Maseo told Ollie the wrong location just in case, but turned himself in anyway rather than let Ollie suffer alone.
  • An episode of Batman (1966) has King Tut capture our hero and subject him to a sand-based version of Chinese water torture. Bats keeps his sanity by reciting the multiplication tables backwards in his head, which gives him something to focus on.
  • An early episode of Battlestar Galactica (2003) has a pair of guards hold a skin-job Cylon's head in a bucket of water until he starts to drown, pull him out, question him, rinse and repeat.
    • In another episode, Starbuck interrogates a Cylon prisoner who claims to have planted a nuke in the fleet. When talking and beating on him don't work, she tries having them duck him in a bucket of water. President Roslin instead asks nicely, and he admits there was never a bomb to begin with. He was just trying to stall for time so they wouldn't kill him.
  • On The Blacklist, Luthor Braxton has Agent Keen waterboarded in order to get the location of The Fulcrum from her. He continues even after discovering she does not remember anything. It's an especially painful scene to watch as you can hear her drowning in the background.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: During Spike's quest to get a soul his head is held underwater. It was supposed to be holy water but they forgot to add the sizzle sound effect so it looks like he's being drowned - except vampires don't breathe so they can't drown.
  • Castle:
    • In "Knockdown", assassin Hal Lockwood captures Ryan and Esposito and ducks Ryan in ice water while Esposito is Forced to Watch. It's incredibly ineffective: Ryan snarks that they used to do this to him in Catholic school for talking in class, while Esposito tells Lockwood:
      "Listen to me, you're too late. The cops already know all about me and your mom."
    • In "In the Belly of the Beast", an undercover Beckett is outed as a cop by drug kingpin Vulcan Simmons and tortured for information by ducking.
  • In Forever we see Henry subjected to this in the flashback of "The Ecstasy of Agony" in a very accurate depiction of waterboarding, in this case done at the asylum to punish Henry for believing he's immortal in an attempt to break him of his "delusion".
  • Game of Thrones: In the season 6 finale, Cersei tortures Septa Unella by pouring wine on her face as she is strapped to a table.note 
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: "The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis" has Frank waterboarding Dee with a urinal.
  • Macgyver 2016: A variation in "Can Opener", where Mac has to infiltrate a cartel but is found out. The cartel boss has him tortured by forcing him to breathe pure nitrogen, which he explicitly compares to waterboarding. Which begs the question why he doesn't just waterboard Mac, or use literally any form of torture that doesn't involve a massive gas tank in kicking distance.
  • The Mentalist: In Orange Blossom Ice Cream, Jane poses as a prospective courier for an arms dealer, ferrying a message of co-ordinates coded as a long series of numbers. To Jane's distress, the dealer tests whether Jane can perform the task by having him repeatedly partially-drowned in a bathtub, with someone shouting random words at him in between dunkings. Afterwards, he's able to recite the words in the correct order, and gets the job. The dealer mentions having tested others in the same way, all of whom failed. It's not mentioned what happened to them afterwards.
  • MythBusters tested the Chinese water torture in one episode, restraining and racking Kari while leaving Adam unrestrained as a control subject. After a fairly short while, Kari became too rattled to continue, while Adam found the cool water and quiet time to actually be fairly pleasant, suggesting that any "torture" value of the process is primarily in the restraint rather than the water.
  • Quiller. In the TV adaptation of The Tango Briefing, the French pilot has his head dunked in a bowl of water until he reveals the location where he air-dropped Quiller.
  • In the 2010 Syfy adaptation of Riverworld, Matt Ellman gets waterboarded without the board, by an Ethereal using his powers.
  • Spooks:
  • Stranger Things: The Russians force Hopper to stand against a wall outside in the freezing weather while spraying him with a hose.
  • Strike Back's Col. Alexander Coltrane has an underling invoke this on Russian Double Agent Katrina Zarkova in order to find out who she's working for.
  • Syndrome E. Commissioner Sharko is captured by a corrupt police officer in Morocco, who has his minion fill a 44-gallon drum with water so they can dunk Sharko's head in it until he reveals how much he's discovered about their conspiracy. Sharko actually drowns during the interrogation, so they haul him out and untie his hands until he recovers. Big mistake.
  • The Warehouse 13 episode "The 40th Floor" has the medal from Shirō Ishii's coat, which can simulate drowning in a manner similar to waterboarding.
  • Wiseguy. The Mafia suspects the feds have an undercover agent in their organization, so Frank McPike is kidnapped and tortured to make him give up the name, including dunking his head in water. His response? "That's OK, I've got a drip-dry suit."

    Web Original 
  • In Scott The Woz episode 200, Scott's therapist, Jerry Attricks attempts to resuscitate him from "medically induced" sleep (i.e. Jerry hit Scott with a frying pan) by putting a cold washcloth on his face and then pouring water on it when he realizes that he didn't wet it enough, effectively waterboarding him by accident.

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto V: In the mission "By The Book", this is one of the four tortures the player can choose for Trevor to use on Ferdinand Kerimov. If chosen, Trevor flips over the chair that Ferdinand is strapped to, puts a cloth over his face, and pours water onto it. Ironically, this is actually one of the least brutal torture methods available to the player.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Archer has Archer arguing with Lana and Slater over whether or not waterboarding is really that bad, Archer having managed to avoid the agency's mandatory waterboarding training because he was at the barber that day. Archer, believing that it won't affect him at all, invites them to try it on him — after the off screen torture takes place, he's stuttering and shaking, he's visibly been crying, and readily admits that it was the absolute worst thing he's ever experienced, even worse than when he literally drowned and temporarily died.
  • The first episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy has Eddy perform Chinese water torture on Plank with a squirt gun. Plank's partner Jonny is the one who cracks, because the sight of the water made him have a Potty Emergency.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!: In "Count Koopula", the heroes are captured and locked in a dungeon. Mario is strapped down with his face under a running faucet. Toad manages to escape his own trap and free the others.


Video Example(s):


Water and a rag

JGSDF Special Armored Group (SAG) pilot Isami Ao is held by CIA officers with Bob leading the interrogation on his relationship with Bravern. Despite not knowing the mech, he got poured on with water for his troubles.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / WaterTorture

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