Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"You are going to tell me what I want to know; it's just a matter of how much you want it to hurt."

"You're not going to get any information out of him if you just ask. You gotta make him squeal a little! (...) If you're too squeamish or worried about being reported, I'll handle it."

Captain Bailey, Mass Effect 2

The cop starts physically injuring the defenseless perp. For all intents and purposes, this is Cold-Blooded Torture. Usually indicates that there is some kind of Time Bomb hanging over the heroes' heads and the interrogator has decided that there isn't enough time to "play nice." Threats to kill will be made, firearms will be discharged. Sometimes done after someone has refused to believe an Empty Cop Threat. Of course, anyone who does this is usually at least an Anti-Hero to begin with. Also, if a suspect knows he only has to hold out for a certain length of time, torture will never work. Good thing Torture Always Works.

In reality, torture is illegal in many jurisdictions,[1] and its actual effectiveness is disputed, depending much on circumstances and individuals. In short, there's no real proof that it works effectively and dependably; it's as likely that someone will tell you something just to make it stop as anything else, and while the "just make it stop" factor can in fact be countered by systems of threatening even worse retribution if the given information turns out to be false, it is still hardly 100% perfect. Someone truly dedicated to a cause may even view this technique as a sign that his enemies are weak or evil, thus enforcing his own convictions and making him more likely to refuse to cooperate. Interrogation is often a long process over days or weeks, as well. Good luck stuffing that time into an hour TV show revolving around a bad guy bomb, though.

It would be especially problematic using evidence obtained through torture in the United States. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits "Cruel and Unusual punishment." Statute Law, specifically 18 USC 1984, the Civil Rights act of 1869, specifically makes it a crime to violate someone's civil rights under color of law. US treaty obligations also cause problems, as they are a signatory to the "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," of 26 June 1987, and the use of torture is a violation of "The Laws and Customs of War" as set forth in the (Fourth) Geneva Convention. The First Protocol Addition to the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits even unlawful combatants from being tortured (although the US has not ratified it, although they have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture). While executing unlawful combatants with only summary tribunal is legal under the Geneva Convention, torturing them, however, is not.

See also: Exalted Torturer, Torture Technician, Torture Always Works and Mutilation Interrogation, a subtrope that involves Fingore.

Compare: Torture First, Ask Questions Later, and Gene Hunt Interrogation Technique, when it's not just that you're torturing someone for information, but you're having a lot of fun doing it, too. High Altitude Interrogation, where the interrogator would rather just threaten to drop someone from a great height.

Examples of Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique include:

Anime and Manga

Andrei Kalinin: If I was there, I would've just chopped off the fingers.

  • Leona from Dominion Tank Police managed to successfully interrogate a suspect by strongly implying that she was willing to resort to desperate measures. She came into the room carrying throwing knives and a hand grenade, and—just to give the suspect the impression that she was really Axe Crazy—wearing a Playboy Bunny outfit.
    • Also by Masamune Shirow: Deunan Knute in Appleseed was once left to interrogate a suspect. The last panel showed her drawing a very large blade from a back sheath. A few pages later, we get the guy complaining about the "neck to groin gash" on the subject. . .
  • In the Darker than Black universe, Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique is established as an effective means of getting information out of Contractors because, as Havoc mentions, their naturally self-serving attitudes will lead them to talk almost immediately. Hei himself performs this on ex-Contractor Havoc in an attempt to get information about his sister before a)it's clear she doesn't know anything and b)he realizes that she's no longer the cold-blooded monster he once knew her as.
    • In the first episode, Hei does this on a Contractor- the guy had to break his own fingers as a price for his powers, and Hei stabs him in the hand with his knife. After getting the information, Hei kills him anyway, disgusted by his cowardice.
    • You could probably also count November 11 freezing to the ground the gangster who betrayed him and then demanding information on the location of the "package". Once he gets the info, November walks away, and the freezing spreads across the guy's whole body and he does a Popsicle Splat. Really, there's no such thing as a Technical Pacifist in the Darker than Black universe.
    • This is given a Lampshade Hanging in the Durarara!! manga. Walker and Erika are going to torture someone based upon whatever anime or manga they choose, and when the victim glances at Darker than Black, it's commented that this is a "good choice".
  • Many in the Sniper Control Office in Él are delighted when female suspects are brought in for interrogation, as it's pretty much their cue to rape and sexually torture them in every way imaginable. Some of them obviously don't care whether they even get any information or not, completely ignoring one victim's pleas that she would talk if they'd stop.
  • As mentioned above, Walker and Erica from Durarara!!. Probably the quickest way to get information out of someone in Ikebukuro is to lock them in a van with those two and a heap of manga.
  • In Maiden Rose, during interrogation for treason, Grand Chamberlain Hasebe cites the fact that Klaus' disavowal of his citizenship means his actions can't be tried for war crimes... and canes Klaus brutally, before deciding to just kill him when he won't talk. Taki stops him Just in Time.
  • After his death in the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Daitokuji Sensei lives on as a spirit, often taking the form of a small orb of light. In the final season, Judai suspects he knows something about the Abandoned Dorm, and manages to catch him, place him in a plastic bag, and then use this Trope by threatening to flush him, literally. Judai had become much darker of late, his soul having bonded with that of Yubel, and such an act seemed his way of showing he wasn't messing around anymore.

Comic Books

  • In the Graphic Novel "God Loves, Man Kills", After capturing some Mooks, Wolverine shows his claws on one hand and puts the other under the mook's chin.

Wolverine: See these? Remember what they did to your car?
(Pops claw up on Left side of Mook's face)
Wolverine: That's one.
(Pops Claw on Right side of Mook's Face)
Wolverine: That's two. Wanna go for three?

The Joker: You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.

      • And in the same movie, it even becomes ineffective on common criminals... because by now, they've realized that nothing Batman could possibly do to them will be as bad as what the Joker will do if he finds out they ratted on him. Still, Batman gives it a good shot with Salvatore Maroni.

Maroni: (being held from a three-story fire escape) Let me give you some advice, from one professional to another; Pick a better spot. From this height, the fall wouldn't even kill me.
Batman: I'm counting on it. (drops Maroni off the fire escape; girly screaming ensues; Maroni lands flat-footed on both feet, shattering his ankles)

  • Pretty much a staple of Marvel's The Punisher, with Frank Castle able to come up with some rather impressive techniques, to the point where the Punisher video game consisted of a variety of ways to use the environment to threaten a criminal with horrific bodily injury... and then let him have it anyways once he gives up the needed information. Note that he sometimes merely threatens torture, but the MAX version is much more overt about him committing it and The Punisher: Force of Nature one-shot (MAX) had a page with him monologuing about torture as well as the threat: for some the threat is enough, some never break, and some just pass out. One of the villains even says that he figures that the Punisher would simply "shut down" if he were tortured.
    • In the Garth Ennis arc The Slavers, Frank needs to get information from one of the titular Croatians and realizes that, hard as they are, "what I would need to do to such men would be...extreme." So he drugs the guy, cut a hole in his belly, pulls about two feet of his intestines out and drapes them on a tree branch in front of him. And that's where he starts.
  • Rorschach from Watchmen seems to consider this the best way to get information about the criminal world.

"I've just broken this gentleman's little finger.. Who killed Edward Blake?"
"...and his index finger. Who killed Edward Blake?"

    • And he does this to completely random people at dinky bars. He doesn't care if the person is actually guilty of anything - he just expects that when he does it enough times, he'll find someone who is, or is willing to talk about a guilty person to make it stop. In one of his diary entries he comments how depressing it is when no-one's guilty.
  • Spider Jerusalem will get at the truth, no matter who he has to maim to do so.
    • Or even just if he doesn't like them, although that's usually limited to punches, general manhandling, and shots with his bowel disruptor rather than anything terribly permanent.
  • Tex Willer typical modu operandi involves punching the poor sop across the room until he finally tells the truth.
  • During the Daredevil arc, "The Devil, Inside and Out" Daredevil interrogated Hammerhead by hitting some Pressure Points that made "his eyes feel like hot coals in his head".
  • Asterix suspected that the captain of a Nile ferry was lying about there being no more stone left in the quarry, so Obelix struck him [the captain] in the face repeatedly (apparently toning the force of the blows down enough to not be fatal). The captain confessed how Artifis had bribed him.

Fan Works

  • In the Firefly fanfic Forward, Mal and Zoe start interrogating one of Adelei Niska's men because Niska has kidnapped River and Jayne and is torturing them For the Evulz. The morality of the situation is highly suspect; most of the crew find the apparent necessity horrific, and in the end it proves entirely fruitless, as the thug is more afraid of Niska than he is of Mal. It isn't until Book drugs the man and Wash talks him into revealing information that they get anything useful.

Films -- Live-Action

  • Appears heavily in Brazilian movie Tropa de Elite (aka The Elite Squad, won the Berlin Golden Bear), with Truth in Television techniques since the movie is based on a real Special Forces squad. Besides physical aggression, other interrogation methods include plastic bags on the head (and watering one which passed out after receiving the bag twice), and menacing sodomy with a broomstick.
  • In the Blaxploitation film Three the Hard Way, the heroes capture a Mooks alive, and torture him, in which he's placed in a bedroom with three gorgeous females, who, behind the closed door, do some sort of rape or something to him, over quite a period of time, and various screams, so much so that one of the other heroes gets nervous. He wants to find out what's going on, and his friend suggests otherwise, "Brother, if you go in there, they're liable to pull your assets in with him, too." "Yeah, maybe I better wait."
  • Probably the godfather of the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique is none other than "Dirty" Harry Callahan. When Scorpio, a murderous psycho who likes to snipe people off, kidnaps a teenage girl and leaves her in a spot where she'll drown in a few hours, he makes Harry run all the way across the city as fast as he can in order to get the information on her whereabouts, but when Harry is finished, the killer, in a crossing of the Moral Event Horizon, says that he's changed his mind and is just going to let her die before trying to kill Harry. Needless to say, Harry is furious, and when he finally tracks Scorpio down on a football field, Harry gets brutal in making him give up the location of the girl. Harry's brutal methods get results, but when the girl is finally found, it's too late for her. Harry promptly gets a dressing-down for "police torture" among other violations of due process by Da Chief, and Scorpio gets Off on a Technicality anyway because of those violations.
  • Referenced in Reservoir Dogs where Mr. White, Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde try to torture a cop to find out if he knows anything about the setup of their disastrous heist. When Nice Guy Eddie finds out, he criticizes their thinking saying "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!" When everyone but Blonde leaves, he proceeds to torture the cop anyway, admitting that he neither cares nor expects to get any information out of him, but simply because he likes to torture cops.
    • Also notable in that, despite the particularly brutal beating the cop suffers, he tells them nothing, even though he knows exactly who the cop is.
  • In Taken, with Liam Neeson, the main character has 96 hours to find his kidnapped daughter before she becomes drug addicted and sold into prostitution. He finds a man who knows information, and the scene proceeds quickly with the trafficker waking up as the hero knocks two nails together and tells him to wake up and focus. He then rams the nails into the trafficker's thighs, attaches crocodile clips to the nails, wired to the mains electricity through a light switch, and proceeds. He at one point mentions torturing people in backwater countries where the electricity was unreliable, but in Paris "I can leave it on until it gets shut off for not paying the bill." Once the trafficker's told the hero everything he knows, the response is a cool "I believe you...but it's not going to save you," and turns the light switch on one last time. Then walks out leaving it on.
  • James Bond does this in The Spy Who Loved Me, with a Mooks hanging by his necktie from a great height. Once Bond has the information, he lets the mook fall.
  • Occurs in Dead Poets Society. Headmaster Nolan paddles Charlie to get information about the student's poetry group.
  • Used in Lethal Weapon 3 where our heroes convince one of the gang leaders to tell them where they've been getting weapons from by threatening to have Lorna run him over with a car. He gives up the name, she puts the pedal to the metal... and it's revealed that the car was put in reverse.
  • Marv from Sin City, when he needs to find something out, he just goes out and finds somebody that knows more than him and he asks them. Sometimes he asks pretty hard.

Marv: I don't know about you, but I'm having a ball. (Said as he is driving a car while dragging a guy's face on the pavement.)

  • John Creasy from Man on Fire, to gain information and destroy everyone responsible for Lupita's kidnapping. His technique including: cutting someone's finger off, blasting someone's kneecaps off with a shotgun, and shoving a thimbleful of C4 explosive into somebody's ass and chaining them to a car. When this guy goes Papa Wolf, let's just say you do not want to be among those responsible for messing with the kid.
  • In The Machine Girl When interrogating a yakuza for information on the gang's new hideout the decide to both smash his face with a hammer and drive nails into his face.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Eddie Valiant threatens R.K. Maroon into telling him what he knows about Cloverleaf's plot to get Toontown by sticking Maroon's tie in a film-editing machine.

Eddie: I'm going to listen to you spin the Cloverleaf scenario. The story of greed, sex and murder. And the parts that I don't like, I'm going to edit all out.

  • Lawful Neutral Scott in Spartan breaks a man's arm in an alleyway. When the guy still won't talk Scott orders his somewhat alarmed apprentice to "take his eye out" and then "you bet your life" when he hesitates.
  • In the 1987 movie of Dragnet:

Streebeck: It's just you... and me... and your balls... and this drawer. SLAM!

  • In Guarding Tess, Nicolas Cage's character, who is a Secret Service Agent, threatens and then shoots the toe off of a suspect to get the information he desires.
  • Done by Dory in Finding Nemo after she politely asks a crab for information to where Marlin went and gets snubbed by him, she essentially threatens to feed him to the gulls and she actually carries out the threat by lifting the crab out of the water in front of said ravenous seagulls.
  • "H", the "hero" of the film Unthinkable, is an ex-Army interrogator who uses extreme methods to get a terrorist to talk, which go up to and include cutting off the man's fingers, electrocuting him, and killing his family in front of his face. His methods end up being viewed as crossing the Moral Event Horizon for the counterterrorism unit assisting him, causing them to run interference.
  • Subverted in the 2004 movie version of The Punisher. To get information from a Mooks, the titular hero fakes taking a blowtorch to the mook's back, using a popsicle and a slab of steak, along with a monologue describing the effects of a blowtorch on human skin.
  • The cops in The Untold Story brutalize the owner of a restaurant because they suspect that he killed the original owners and possibly a few of his employees.
  • Subverted in Serpico. When Frank Serpico discovers a brutal gang rape, he only manages to capture one of the perps. The perp is then beaten to a pulp by his commanding officer with no results. Later on Serpico's humane methods (taking the perp for a burger and soda) manage to get him to give the rest of the gang up.
  • In X Men First Class, Magneto pulls out the metal fillings of a banker in order to get the location of some Nazi war criminals.
  • In Wanted: Dead Or Alive, bounty hunter Nick Randall comes up with a technique that works more on the principle of abject terror than pain: tossing the terrorist's Mook into a free-standing locker and locking him inside, he demands to know where the Big Bad Malak Al Rahim is. Every time the mook refuses to talk, Nick taps the locker twice with the tip of the barrel of his rifle, and then fires. Faced with the terror of trying to dodge the bullets in the blind, his subject quickly cracks. The film somewhat justifies his being able to use this technique by establishing earlier that as a freelance bounty hunter, Nick is not quite as constrained by some of the laws binding the police and government agents also pursuing the terrorist. Of course, he probably could still have been prosecuted for this if anyone actually cared about his victim.
  • Parodied in Dude, Where's My Car?. The two main stoner characters are interrogated by the cops for a crime they didn't commit, but they don't remember anything from the night before. Thinking they're holding out on them, the cops then bring in a dummy, which they "torture" with beatings, pouring hot coffee in its face, and cigarette burns.

Chester: Leave him alone! He doesn't know anything!


  • At one point in Warhammer 40,000, Haegr of the Space Wolves threatens to rip off a cultist's arms and eat them if he doesn't spill his guts. Unlike in most cases, it actually works with a space marine, since they can literally smell a lie.
  • According to Sirius Black in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Aurors during the first war were given permission to, and did, enact this trope. Given the Ministry's standard for due diligence and investigative competence, it is likely that a great many innocent people were tortured (Such as Sirius himself, who was later sentenced to life in prison without trial). Retired Badass Alastor Moody was singled as having never done this in spite of being authorized to do so to show he's a good guy.
    • Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Particularly disturbing about this example is the light-hearted calmness with which she conducts these interrogations, to say nothing of the fact that they are, by definition, practiced on children. And yet, she isn't punished for anything until she starts cooperating with Voldemort.
    • Also, in the seventh book, the hired-by-Voldemort teachers have sanction to use torture on the students. In the same book, after it became apparent that one of the items that Mundungus Fletcher stole and sold from the Black residence was Slytherin's Locket, Harry had Dobby and Kreatcher (the latter of whom was now more than willing to listen to Harry Potter after he explained to Harry Potter about Regulus' Heroic Sacrifice to retrieve the locket) abduct Mundungus Fletcher and later interrogated him pretty brutally to get the name of the person whom he sold the locket to (or at least a physical profile). They later ended up scalding him after his description of the person he sold it to matched that of Dolores Umbridge, although that was more by accident due to shock of who now owns the horcrux than an actual interrogation technique.
  • In Honor Harrington, this is sometimes mentioned as the fate of any do-badders captured by the 'heroic' Star Kingdom of Manticore, often ending with summary execution.
    • At one point, a man is hired to legally murder the protagonist's boyfriend through a duel. He does so, and her friends track him down, and torture him until he tells them exactly what they want to hear (who hired him, mainly). They then set him up to die horribly in a duel with the protagonist (it is noted that the confession they got wouldn't hold up in court, but it does snap Honor out of her Heroic BSOD). He was planning to duel with (and kill) Honor anyway; she just provoked him into challenging her instead of the other way around.
  • Captain Azarcon admits to using this technique to get what he needs from pirates and war criminals. Even Jos once shoots a pirate in the chest in an attempt to make his buddies talk.
  • Worsel the Velantian and Nadreck of Palain VII of the Lensmen universe go to town on captured Overlords of Delgon with the Delgonians' own torture devices. There are extenuating circumstances in Worsel's case - the Delgonians at one point used to systematically torture members of Worsel's race to death not only to get off on the suffering but also in order to drink their life-essence as they died, and had been doing so for thousands of years. When the tables are turned, nobody begrudges the Velantians their revenge. Nadreck on the other hand is a (literally) frigid-blooded entity who makes Mr Spock and Lt.Cmdr Data look like over-excited emo-woobies by comparison, and is so far removed from humanity both biologically and psychologically that he has NO concept whatsoever of suffering or mercy - all he cares about is getting the information he needs with the minimum of effort.
    • Earlier in the same universe, the psychopathic Herkimer Herkimer III captures Jill Samms and threatens to torture her for information by (among other things) planting flesh-eating creatures on her body. Subverted when the Lensmen get back in touch with her, locate her, and tell her to save herself the agony by giving him the information, because he's basically got less than a minute to live. One of her rescuers is very much in love with her (and she with him), and Herkimer's end is quite messy as a result.
  • In Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, John Clark is on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against a criminal group so he captures a Complete Monster who is part of the group, shoved him in a boat, and drove back to his island home, leased from the Navy and stocked with all kinds of surplus gear. Like a pressurization chamber!! For the next ten hours, he uses it to put his captive at around 100 feet simulated depth, and to raise it when the man didn't answer his questions properly. By the time Clark had finished, every joint in the man's body was crippled, the insides of his eyes had burst, most of his muscles were (for all intents and purposes) one giant bruise, and he had the next best thing to a stroke. When finished, he drove the man back to the mainland and left him on the beach for the police to find: Blind, incoherent, and crippled, spending the next month in agony before finally dying.
    • Clark applies a slightly less brutal version in The Sum of all Fears to wring a confession out of two Arab terrorists who set off a nuclear bomb in Denver. There is a deadline involved - namely the threat of all-out nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR, and the technique used is finger breaking. Also subverted, in that the terrorists lie.
  • In Black Sunday, Kabakov wants a freighter captain to tell him whom he dealt with, and he refuses. So Kabakov tells the captain, "I'm going outside for a smoke." Kabakov turns to his assistant, and says "Mochevsky, I suspect the captain would like some refreshments. Call me when he has finished eating his testicles."
  • Utilized by Agent Stanley B. Goode to extract information from Dr. Wiley in The Tumbleweed Dossier.
  • Twice in the Solar Queen series, the main characters say they might use such techniques. The first time was to a pirate, but the second was to a technician who was just being uncooperative with their illegal demands -- the heroes were, at the time, officially outlaws.

"A swift death by a blaster is a very easy way into the Greater Space, is it not? But out on the Rim, in the Wild Worlds, we have learned other tricks."
"Out on the Rim, we play rough, and we play for keeps. I know half a hundred ways to set you screaming in three minutes and at least ten of them will not even leave a mark on your skin!"

Live-Action TV

  • Jack Bauer (from 24) does this a lot. In 67 scenes in the first five seasons. He starts by threatening to shove a towel down the fake Alen York's throat until he begins to digest it before pulling it out. In one instance (the beginning of the second season), Jack Bauer decides that the perp is no longer necessary except as bait, and proceeds to actually shoot and kill the perp, cut off his head, and put it in a carpet bag.
    • The show's producers promised to cut down on torture scenes; indeed, throughout season 6, torture sessions conducted by Jack Bauer and other CTU officers have largely proven ineffective at getting the perp to talk. The Movie, Redemption, subverted the trope; while being tortured by The Dragon, Jack breaks down in tears and tells him exactly what he wants to hear, thereby causing him to send his Mooks on a wild goose chase so that Jack can escape.
    • Jack's torture technique is brilliantly subverted towards the end of Season Five, where he confronts President Charles Logan. Instead of torturing him, Jack simply sits across from him and stares. Within minutes, the man is breaking down and babbling helplessly. Also, the whole thing is a Batman Gambit to plant a bug on Logan.
    • Torture proved so common and effective in 24, one Jack Bauer Fact claims, "Jack Bauer once forgot where he put his keys. He then spent the next half-hour torturing himself until he gave up their location."
    • Season seven is very clearly an attempt to appease the people upset with the earlier use of torture. There are two prominent characters on Jack's side who are adamantly against using torture, even as one is forced to use Jack-like methods more and more, much to her own horror. And the show noticeably does not take the easy way out by making either of them The Mole in the FBI foreshadowed since the season premiere.
    • Season 4 shows other downside of torture: when the victim happens to be innocent. As well as a suspected mole who is then fired when she seeks compensation, The Secretary of Defense is kidnapped and nearly executed on a live webcast. After he is freed, he orders CTU to torture his own son for information, while the son protests that he had nothing to do with the plot. Eventually, they discover another piece of evidence which jogs the son's memory: He had a one-night-stand with a man at a bar, while an accomplice checked his email and stole the SecDef's itinerary. The Secretary then berates his son for not revealing it sooner, while the son (correctly) points out that he had no idea a random sexual encounter from three weeks prior was important.
    • Season 8 featured Jack torturing Pavel Tokarev, the man who killed Renee Walker by tying him to a steel pole, ripping off part of his skin with pliers, savagely beating him, cutting him with a knife, throwing some liquid that burned his skin on him, and burning him with a blow torch before disemboweling him to pull a SIM Card that he swallowed out of his chest. It was very bloody.
    • To give an idea of how cold-blooded Jack Bauer is regarding torture; the guy he's strangling in the picture for this page is his brother. Though to be fair, his brother had ties to terrorists. Jack tortured him in Season 6, and his brother was also one of the major players in the Season 5 plot. The audience was aware of this but Jack was not at the time. Making it somewhat interesting as the viewers knew how rotten Jack's brother was, but Jack seemed to be going really far considering how little he knew.
  • Jack Bauer's predecessor was Madeline in the TV version of La Femme Nikita. Created years earlier by Twenty Four producers Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, Nikita featured the world-class "Torture Twins" and their employer Madeline... who was revealed in one episode as being better at torture than they were. Yeah, these were the good guys, too - although this question presented a theme throughout the show: How much evil can you do and still remain "good"? In one episode, for example, they were shown tormenting one of their own agents just because 'he made a mistake' - he went AWOL and told someone about his double life as an agent of Section One. As always, this method was shown to be hideously effective.
  • Subverted in a season one episode of Criminal Minds, where the main character is asked to help with a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay prison. Instead of torture, he just tricks the prisoner into thinking his plan had already happened, so he would tell them what it was, just to gloat. It's implied that the man has already *been* tortured, and that it hasn't worked for exactly the reasons described. All it's done, in fact, is reinforce his belief that he is a hero, that America is the embodiment of evil, and that it needs to be destroyed - none of which makes him at all eager to give up any information.
  • Elliot Stabler (from Law And Order: SVU). It's shocking he's still a cop. And for worse, his partner Olivia Benson picks up after him.
    • Nine times out of ten, Stabler is able to get away with it because the guy he assaults/tortures is the perp, or at least dirty, and no one believes a police brutality claim from a suspect. Usually. The times he doesn't get away with it, he's usually reprimanded, and has, on at least two occasions, been suspended. That being said, it's stated early in the show's run that SVU detectives are supposed to be in the department for two years, tops, due to the increasing desensitization and violence exhibited by officers in that position. Why the SVU detectives of the show haven't been rotated out after eight years is anyone's guess. Especially considering the increasing insanity.
    • One episode of the fourth season saw Detective Stabler visit the Czech Republic in cooperation with European police agencies investigating a child pornography and prostitution ring that intersected a case Stabler had been working in New York. When Stabler and the European police apprehend the suspect, with all the freedom from those pesky U.S. laws and restrictions regarding treatment of prisoners...let's just say that it puts what he does in New York to shame.
  • Babylon 5's Michael Garibaldi is very good at making people think he'll use this sort of interrogation technique, but when all is said and done, he's entirely anti-torture, going so far as to turn in his badge when Sheridan tells him of his intention to torture a suspect in custody.
  • Vic Mackey from The Shield, a lot. He beats a suspect with a phone book in the pilot episode to reveal to location of a kidnapped girl and does similar things throughout the show's run, including threatening to drop off a gang member in rival territory (a ticket to the emergency room at minimum) and beating another to death with a length of chain for killing Lem. The kicker? Shane, the actual killer, was there and trying to convince him to stop.
  • Al in Quantum Leap goes as far as to discharge his gun right next to Lee Harvey Oswald's ear when Oswald doesn't come clean with what he knows.
  • Subverted in the new Battlestar Galactica: When Starbuck tortures Leoben for information... Leoben spends seven hours giving misinformation and trying to Mind Screw Starbuck. Only when the torture stops does he admit he's been lying. And even then he manages to Mind Screw Roslin.
    • The Cylon talked about God quite a bit, a valuable psychological insight, which Starbuck ignored.
    • The Cylons also tortured Baltar for information after he seemingly sent a Basestar to its death. Thanks to Head-Six, the result was infinitely squicky and full of Mind Screw, with Baltar managing to both convince his interrogator of his innocence and get into her bed. Needless to say it was one of the strangest scenes in the show and an excellent moment in what was otherwise a terrible episode.
    • The Pegasus crew tried this on their Cylon prisoner Gina, but got no useful information from her in the process. Baltar did manage to get information about the Resurrection Ship from her after applying the carrot, however, because she was so traumatized that she wanted the Resurrection Ship destroyed so that she could die properly.
  • Hilariously parodied in Power Rangers SPD. There's an enemy that will withstand practically anything the Rangers try to get him to talk... until they lock him in a room with their SPD Green Ranger, local Psychic Powers Cloudcuckoolander Bridge. In less than ten minutes, the prisoner is pleading to have Bridge away from him.
  • Justified appearance on Rome when it appears in the beginning of the season two episode Testudo et Lepus. Atia tortures the slave boy Duro to find out who hired him to poison her, even though she knows fully well it was Servilia. In republican Rome the testimony of a slave was only legal in court if it had occurred during torture.
    • In the first season Octavian and Pullo are interrogating a man about the actual father of Vorenus's wife's son. When he won't talk, Octavian tells Pullo, "Torture him." Pullo isn't sure how to torture somebody, since he's never done it before (it's done by specialists in the Roman army). They settle on cutting off his thumbs.
    • In the first episode crucifying a prisoner gets instant results, to the visible annoyance of the soldier who went to all the trouble of nailing him to a cross.
  • Has been used repeatedly on Life On Mars, the American edition. Usually by Lieut. Hunt and Ray Carling.
    • Also used in the UK original's spinoff, Ashes to Ashes, involving a naked suspect and a pool table. You have three seconds to work out what it entails, and any guesses after the first don't count. Starting now.
    • And used at least twice on UK Life on Mars. Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt lock a murder suspect in a freezer until he confesses that his boss did it, and he dumped the body. And there was the incident where Ray Carling had a suspect held down and forcibly given cocaine. The suspect dies in custody, and Ray gets demoted. Oops.
  • Teal'c of Stargate SG-1 normally has no need to resort to this: on a few occasions he successfully "interrogates" prisoners by simply scowling across a table, not even needing to ask questions to intimidate them into admitting the truth. In the 10th season episode "Talion", however, he tortures and then kills two people who were involved in a terrorist attack that killed numerous Jaffa civilians. Partially a subversion, since Teal'c gets little useful information from them, and the "interrogation" was probably as much to punish them as to get them to talk.
  • On NCIS we never actually see this but it's stated that before joining NCIS Ziva used this all the time. In fact the first time we see her interrogate someone she sits on the other side of the room so she won't be tempted to break any bones.
    • Although early on, Gibbs does allow Ziva to employ her interrogation tactics on a woman who knows where a hostage is being held. It's scary because, while the audience never sees the actual scene, when Gibbs returns a few minutes later, the woman is sobbing, terrified and willing to give up information about people who will kill her rather than go through any more questioning.
    • Gibbs himself almost commits this on a suspect in the episode "Engagement Part 2", when trying to find out what their terrorist plan is and where his brother is... by trying to plant cigarette burns on him (which is exactly what his sister often did to the schoolgirls they captured in Afghanistan) before Leon stops him. It's a probable subversion, as it is implied that the entire thing, including Leon "stopping" Gibbs, was a setup to trick the younger brother into explaining what they were planning to do.
  • Deconstructed thoroughly by Burn Notice. Michael states explicitly that torture never works - the person you're torturing will say whatever they think you want to hear to get the pain to stop. Both Michael and Sam have been interrogated in this fashion and never crack, and whenever they interrogate bad guys, it's never strictly physical torture.
    • From Michael's voiceover in an S2 episode:

Michal Westen (Narration): The fact is, torture is for sadists and thugs. It's like getting groceries with a flame thrower; it doesn't work and it makes a mess."

    • And in "The Hunter", all of Fiona and Sam's threats and actual violence on a suspect don't get them the information they need. Mama Bear Madeline walks in, lights a cigarette, and proceeds to talk the guy into confessing everything he knows.
    • They love smashing this trope on this show. The episode "Friends Like These" gives us the quote "Torture just gets you the fastest lie to make the pain stop," after Barry suggested Michael and Sam use a car battery on a bad guy.
  • In the Torchwood episode "Countrycide", Jack Harkness interrogates Martin to get information about the sinister goings-on in the town.
  • Jack Bristow of Alias has his moments with this trope also. In the episode "Nightingale", Sidney is trapped in a nuclear-powered killing machine and Jack learns how to save her by coming into the control room with a gun, pointing it at the operator, and telling him "You are going to tell me what I want to know. The question is how much pain you want to be in when you tell me."
  • Sayid from Lost. This was Sayid's entire job in the Republican Guard and since landing on the island it's been something he's been called upon occasionally to do. Somewhat Subverted Trope in that it never really seems to work as intended (most notably when he tortured Ben, which yielded nothing and merely freaked out Jack enough to press the button). However, not quite entirely subverted as Sayid still claims that the torture allowed him to confirm that the man wasn't who he said he was.
  • Hilarious example from The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "Heavy Metal". Sarah is unable to get a guy to divulge info so she lets him go, but he has to get past Cameron. Next scene shows him nervously driving them to where they need to go. Cameron smiles at him.
  • In a rather gruesome scene in season 2 of Veronica Mars, Weevil has Logan kidnapped. Two PCH bikers proceed to play Russian Roulette with Logan's hands and knees until he tells them whether or not he killed Felix Toombs.
  • Don used this in one episode of Numb3rs to find the location of the woman who had kidnapped Megan. It should be noted that this was not used to build a case at all.
  • This is the standard interrogation technique for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Of course, it's a lot easier to justify when the fate of the world is at stake, and the subjects are frequently demons. Her methods are implied to be especially brutal specifically because the vampires and other nasties are either immortal or extremely difficult to kill.
    • Read the 24 example above? Remember Jack describing the Russians forcing a towel down people's throats so when they drag it up their intestines do as well? Buffy does this with a cross. Having her torture someone with a piece of metal on a chain sounds bad enough, but the victim is a vampire. Guess what the cross does.
    • The same justification is used on Charmed to the point that the girls casually discuss later plans to stun demons rather than killing them explicitly so they can be tortured for information.

Piper: But I so like killing them.

    • Also, demons aren't known for their loyalty, and therefore tend to crack rather quickly.
  • In the "Nazi Waffen-SS vs. Viet Cong" episode of Deadliest Warrior, the dramatized fight begins with the Waffen-SS leader being beaten up and harshly interrogated by a Viet Cong squad, whose leader has pointed a gun at his head. He refuses to talk and is rescued soon after by his own comrades. The fight ends with the Waffen-SS leader obtaining his revenge by torching the Viet Cong leader with a flamethrower.
  • Parodied in the House episode "The Down Low", when House is trying to get information in order to treat a drug dealer:

House: I need the drugs.
Eddie: We're in textiles.
House: I NEED THE DRUGS! (pauses) Hmm... works for Jack Bauer.

  • In one episode of Dexter, a police officer looking for the murderer of his brother interogates a suspect by shaking up a soda bottle and shoves it up the guy's nostril as it goes off.
  • In the pilot of City Homicide, Simon, Duncan and Matt arrest Sean Macready, a serial arsonist and child-killer on his way out of his latest target. To force him to tell them where he locked the children, Duncan and Matt physically pull him back into the burning house while they search. Macready is killed when he attempts to throw himself and one of the children into the fire, and the cops escape any punishment.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street made it a point to avoid this as detectives who hit suspects can not only wreck their case but put their job at risk and can even risk Assault charges.
  • Late in season 3 of Castle, Ryan and Esposito shoot a man non-fatally then question him while threatening not to call 911. Then, for more info, Esposito shoves the still hot barrel of his gun into a bullet wound...
  • In Community episode The Science of Illusion Annie slams Jeff's head down onto a table in an attempt to do this, but given the context of the show (and the general cuteness of her character), it comes off more as the Gene Hunt Interrogation Technique (at least to the audience).
    • Shirley then provides a straighter example as she threatens to cut Jeff up with a pizza slicer.
  • The Collector: Applied to Morgan twice. Didn't work, of course. He must have built up resistance to pain from the fatal injuries he keeps getting.
  • In the pilot of Fringe, Peter manages to get information out of a suspect Olivia couldn't crack by smashing his fingers repeatedly with a coffee mug.
  • Somewhat subverted in at least one episode of Spooks. The spies are presented with a ticking time bomb scenario and they've managed to find one of the gang responsible. Pearce, their commander, tells them that "under no circumstances whatsoever are you allowed to use torture to find out the location" (wink wink). Adam Carter, the guy who literally wrote the book on how to survive torture, acknowledges that it's going to be useless trying to torture him as he's an ex spy and would have received training in how to hold out against pain. Instead, they use a variety of "soft" techniques to get him to tell them the location.
    • The show genuinely aimed for a degree of realism as well, and often played with moral choices such as this. They made it clear that it was never, in any way, guaranteed to work. They also made it very clear that it wasn't going to yield instant results either. Which somehow only made it worse.
  • The Monk episode "Mr. Monk Stays In Bed" has Stottlemeyer doing a mundane version of the trope. He gets to the likely suspect behind a judge's disappearance and tries to question him on what he knows about her disappearance. When the subject denies it, he then dunks his tie into his porridge after asking if the man likes "Thai food.", and later, after supplying his own tie to the man out of guilt (Disher tells him that they have the wrong table), only to discover it was the right man all along, has him helping him with his tie by tightening it to the extent that it was borderline stranglement.
  • Realistically Subverted in the pilot of Blue Bloods. Danny beats the living daylights out of a child predator to find a kidnapped girl. Said predator's lawyer successfully argues that the confession is inadmissible, forcing Danny to find other evidence to put him away.
  • In most versions of The Addams Family, Wednesday is shown to be fond of sadio-masachism, though usually with a consenting sub, often her brother (and she likely learned it from her parents). The Netflix series Wednesday, however, shows she is more than willing to use these "skills" for this purpose; when she discovers that Thing has been left behind by her parents to spy on her, she gives him two options, she can lock him in her deck for the rest of the semester or he can swear fealty to her. He chooses the latter option.

Tabletop Games

  • Standard operating procedure for Imperial law enforcement in Warhammer 40,000. Shining example: the "Nine Actions" are the Inquisition's specific guidelines on gradually increasing the intensity of their questioning, psychological manipulation, torture, and Mind Rape. Action Nine would kill any normal human pretty quick, but then normal humans usually give in at about the two-mark, which involves explaining exactly what is going to happen through the next seven stages.
    • The Actions themselves are really more of a subversion. Only light physical torture is allowed until the Nineth Action, and information is taken forcefully through psychic methods, ensuring useful information.


  • In Oedipus the King, when the shepherd who found the abandoned infant Oedipus and gave him to Polybus is brought to Oedipus he refuses to talk. Oedipus orders his guards to twist his arm behind his back until he does. Later, he threatens to have the man killed when he hesitates again.

Video Games

  • God of War 2 had Kratos brutally forcing a number of scholars to translate tablets. This involved him literally bashing their heads on the tablet itself to get them to read the whole damn thing. Then, after that, Kratos ends their misery by crushing their heads on the tablet and using their blood as a sacrifice.
  • On the villain side, though not quite as brutal (as killing or crippling people would of course lessen the amount of money the family brings in and bring down the heat) the same can be done in The Sopranos game. There are also less interactive hotspots however. After the first (which is a story related death) killing people you aren't supposed to has a negative effect on your standing. Knock off too much of the clientele and you get to join Big Pussy.
  • The Cerberus organization from Mass Effect enjoy this, and in fact it is treated as a valid, if somewhat immoral, technique.
    • Same with Saren, so its not just for humans.
      • Saren, being a Spectre, has the authority to ignore laws in order to accomplish his mission. In the prequel novel, he brutally interrogates a batarian by breaking an appendage for every wrong answer. After finally getting all he can from the guy, Saren simply snaps his neck, considering himself merciful.
  • You can do this in Mass Effect 2 during Thane's loyalty mission while trying to shake down an uncooperative perp for information about an assassin's target. It's purely optional but incredibly cathartic.
    • And you can subvert it as well: At the very beginning of the interrogation, there's an option to explain to the perp exactly who you are and what you do. He'll blab immediately if you choose it, and Thane will note it as quite possibly the shortest interrogation ever.
      • Or an even more hilarious manner, wait till his lawyer gets into the room, then punch the perp (in front of the lawyer). The lawyer will mention how he'll have your badge. Shepard then replies s/he's a Spectre. The lawyer tells his client that indeed, Shepard could shoot him here and now and it would be legal.
      • This could also be a lie, as it is entirely possible not to be reinstated as a Spectre.[2]
      • In which then Shepard simply draws a gun and states this.

Shepard: If I choose to, I can kill everyone in this room and walk out unscathed.

    • Captain Bailey of Citadel Security advocates this to make criminals talk. If Shepard calls him on this, he responds that the Citadel Wards are dangerous places and he has to use these methods to get the information he needs.
    • In Purgatory, you can have your teammates comment on this trope. Legion[3] will point out the flaws in the method, noting that the interrogated will say anything, likely false, in order to make the punishment stop.
  • Does Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue ever do anything else?
  • In Fallout 3, there is a moment after the player character is captured by the Enclave in which it looks as though things are going to head in this direction. Thanks to some timely intervention from President Eden, however, it stops just short of this point.
    • Fallout: New Vegas allows you to interrogate a Legion prisoner at one point. The CO wants you to rough him up a little (and is letting you do it in the first place to avoid anti-brutality laws), but you also have the option to use your speech skills to Mind Screw him. Both have the exact same successful result, and the CO compliments your methods either way. You also have the option to kill the prisoner afterward, but this is related to a separate quest about one of your follower's not the interrogation.
  • In Heavy Rain, Carter Blake likes to interrogate suspects in this manner, when you play as Jayden you get the chance to intervene whenever Blake starts beating up suspects (And even innocents) to get answers. If Ethan is arrested, Jayden can intervene when Blake starts torturing him and punch Blake in to a wall.
  • In the new Splinter Cell game, this is the method Sam uses a lot to get information out of people.
  • "Beat this filth until it speaks..."
  • Flint Paper of Sam and Max Freelance Police is a master of this technique, and Sam indulges in some of this in the first act of the Telltale adventure game They Stole Max's Brain!
    • Well, it's debatable if Flint is trying to get information by beating the tar out of perps. Mostly he pummels them in lieu of turning them over to the government-employed police (for example, see just about any time Max describes Flint's encounters with Artie Flopshark in Poker Night At the Inventory).
  • In The Punisher video game from 2005 you can torture almost any enemy, complete with a small minigame. Although in all cases it is more about the threat of a horrible death rather than causing pain. Actually very few of the enemies have useful information. It is more important as a game mechanic, as a successful interrogation will restore health to the Punisher.
  • In Assassin's Creed, Altaïr's method of interrogation is beating people until they talk. Apparently Ezio picks it up in Brotherhood.
  • In Call of Duty Black Ops, you interrogate a scientist by breaking a window, putting the shards of glass in his mouth, and punching him in the jaw (you have to press the button).
    • Likewise in Modern Warfare, there's a mission in the favela where you need to track down an arms dealer while Soap gets information out of his lackey. As you leave Soap behind, he's wiring up a car battery...
  • In the remakes of Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, Lance gets his Dragonite to use Hyper Beam on a Rocket Grunt...FREAKING HYPER BEAM!!!
  • In a revamp of the Mercy Island zone in City of Heroes, your fledgling villain can use this technique on a Longbow captive. Option 1 is to explain the horrible things you are going to do to him, while options 2 and 3 involve breaking his arm or his leg, respectively.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Subverted in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Flash and Substance". After Orion fails to get the information he wants from the Trickster using the standard "threaten grievous bodily harm" routine ("Talk... while you still have a jaw."), Flash volunteers to take over from there. He then proceeds to sit the Trickster down, have a serious but friendly chat with him, and not only gets exactly what they wanted from him, but manages to casually talk the villain into happily turning himself in after finishing his drink.
    • Of course (as largely evidenced by that last part), it helps a lot that Trickster has a mental disorder that makes him go out and act like a lunatic, and is mostly aiding the Rogues because he's off his medication (he wasn't even aware that he was wearing a costume until Flash pointed it out). Flash has, however, gotten Ultra-Humanite, a much more serious to turn himself in once as well.
  • The Simpsons: In the 24 parody episode, Bart interrogates Nelson by putting a garbage can over his head and repeatedly bangs on it until he talks.
  • Parodied, deconstructed and subverted in the Finnish animation Pasila, in the episode 25, a 24 spoof. After Repomies beats the location of a bomb out of a terrorist, Pöysti proceeds to beat a made up location out of the terrorist just to demonstrate that torture doesn't work. Subverted further as when they bring in CIA agent Jack Bauer Jofa himself to interrogate the man, the terrorist's lawyer arrives and gives him an extremely strong dose of anesthesia, as although a new USA/EU agreement permits the CIA to torture European terrorists, the terrorists have to be so numb on painkillers that they can't feel the pain, rendering torture useless. The episode closes with Jofa dragging the terrorist off to Guantanamo Bay since he thinks he's roughed the terrorist up enough to turn him against the US.
  • Parodied in the episode "The Snuke" of South Park that was, in itself, parodying 24, Cartman is under the belief that some Arabs are planning a bombing and wants to know where their son is, so he begins seeming as though he's going to start beating them, and instead injects himself with apple juice and begins farting in their faces until they give in (turns out there was indeed a terrorist plan but it had nothing at all to do with the people he was "torturing").
  • Used in an episode of The Boondocks featuring a Jack Bauer expy, Jack Flowers. His method of interrogation? Kicking the perp in the groin repeatedly until they confess. And if they don't confess right away, he brings out the steel boot...
  • In the American Dad episode "Homeland Insecurity", Stan does this to everyone in the neighborhood, including himself!'
  • In one episode of the G.I. Joe cartoon, Zartan plants a bomb in an embassy, only to be caught by the Joes before he can make his getaway. When they find out there's a bomb - and Zartan won't tell them where it is - Roadblock decide to "persuade" him by placing him in a holding cell in the embassy itself and then placing his watch outside the cell where he can see it. The idea is, Zartan knows when it will go off, and if he's still there when it does, he goes with it. Roadblock doesn't tell him that he cleverly set the watch a half-hour fast, meaning Zartan is fooled into thinking the deadline is closer than it actually is. It works; eventually he breaks down and tells them.
  • As hard as it is to believe that someone as sweet as Strawberry Shortcake would resort to something like this, she did indeed in one of the original specials, in her own way. (And indeed, it was one of the rare times she was visibly angry.) After the Pieman had framed her for cheating in her own contest, she deliberately spoke in Berry Talk to him (something he simply can't stand) until he broke down and confessed in front of everyone.

Real Life

  • Averted when Yvonne Ridley was captured by the Taliban. When she was captured by the Taliban, she was expecting to be tortured. Instead, she was treated well, fed adequately, referred to as "guest" and "sister," and even allowed to have a key to her cell. She converted to Islam after being freed.Then subverted as this only happened due to the fact she was a journalist and the Taliban wanted better publicity.
  1. However, that doesn't stop people from doing it, and doesn't prevent nations from tossing out evidence of use of torture.
  2. The first time you meet Anderson, the Council will want to speak with you about your association with Cerberus (what with Cerberus being an avowed enemy of the Council and a pro-human-supremacy paramilitary group). Going the Paragon route gets the Council to reinstate you as a Spectre and suggesting you to stay outside Council space as long as your business with Cerberus goes on.
  3. This option only being made available through hacks.