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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
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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:

  • Ducking 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.
  • The semi-legendary Chinese water torture involves restraining the victim and slowly dripping water onto them. This is reputed to drive the subject insane.
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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.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 Murphys 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.
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    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 
  • 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.
  • 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 and tortured by strapping him to a board and dunking his head under water. The villains are trying to force him to regain his memory so they can obtain vital information from him. One wonders why they didn't just hit him over the head.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Travis Mc Gee 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 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.
  • "The Drink" is a form of torture in Provost's Dog. 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).
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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.
  • MythBusters tested the Chinese water torture in one episode, restraining and racking Kari while leaving Adam unrestrained as a control subject. After an hour or so, poor Kari was so rattled the team called a halt early; they declared it plausible and too dangerous to go for full confirmation.
  • Spooks:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • An episode of Batman 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.
  • 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.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: "The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis" has Frank waterboarding Dee with a urinal.
  • 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."
  • In the 2010 Syfy adaptation of Riverworld, Matt Ellman gets waterboarded without the board, by an Ethereal using his powers.
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Archer has Sterling, Lana, and Slater arguing over whether or not waterboarding is really that bad (Archer having managed to avoid the agency's mandatory waterboarding tests because he was hungover that day.) Lana and Slater finally goad him into undergoing waterboarding, after which he concedes that it is, indeed, torture.
  • 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.

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