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Practices that are defined as torture by long-held standards and international law, but are not regarded as torture by the characters or the audience.
This is done because Torture Always Works, but it would be unbecoming for our heroes to get their hands dirty with a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. So instead, they use alternative techniques, usually psychological. They make death threats, point around loaded guns, and use things like sleep deprivation. Beatings may or may not apply depending on how they're depicted. The most common, though, are probably the Dramatic Gun Cock and High Altitude Interrogation.
Named for the euphemism used by both the U.S. Government for forms of torture that don't leave marks or cause organ failure, and for Verschärfte Vernehmung, which is what the Nazis called it when they did it and which translates to the same. Compare Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, Torture Always Works. See also We Have Ways of Making You Talk, Maximum Fun Chamber.
- In an issue of Batgirl, Robin convinced the mad scientist du jour to hand over the antidote for his latest chemical warfare toxin by pretending to expose him to it. Turns out that a particular brand of diet soda looked remarkably like the scientist's formula in solution...
- Batman himself has been known to use threats and the like to get what he wants. Since most criminals are terrified of him, this tends to work pretty well. Interestingly, despite being the poster boy for gritty, no nonsense characters, he was not known for actually torturing crooks - the vague threats were more than enough... until the Darker and Edgier remake movies, when he is perfectly willing to throw a mobster off a fire escape in order to break his legs.
Maroni: From one professional to another, if you're trying to scare someone, pick a better spot. From this height the fall wouldn't kill me.
Batman: I'm counting on it.
- Partially justified as this was just after Gordon had been murdered and so Batman was out to cause pain just as much as he was to get information, as exemplified by his ruthless backhanding of a half dozen Mooks in the previous scene.
- Still an improvement to the Tim Burton version, who had no aversion to casually murdering random Mooks.
- The Dark Knight Saga is also notable for deconstructing Torture Always Works. Batman uses torture twice in The Dark Knight, the first time the guy tells him every thing he knows, but only because he wants batman to know anyway. The second time the Joker tells him where Dent and Rachel are being held, but switches the addresses and again only because he actually wants batman to know anyway.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Faramir has Gollum beaten.
- Will Smith's character in Wild Wild West uses the Dramatic Gun Cock to force an impostor to reveal himself. The scene is played for laughs. To be fair, it's a dude impersonating the president who has failed to answer several direct questions about who he is.
- Tom Clancy loves these. It always gets information, and of course it's always completely justified and all decent characters will agree, or at least help to keep it secret from those bastards that don't know how to defend America.
- Well, except for the bit in The Sum of All Fears where the "interrogation" only nets false information which nearly leads to the liberal President nuking Iran. But things turn out okay, and that's the important thing.
- Thoroughly and terrifyingly averted in Without Remorse, in which the protagonist employs Cold-Blooded Torture with a decompression chamber to get the information he wants. Even allowing for the fact that the victim was responsible for brutally murdering the protagonist's girlfriend, it's as far as Clancy has ever deliberately gone into Black and Grey Morality territory.
- The Department of Homeland Security uses several, including the "simulated drowning" mentioned below, on teenagers in the book Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
- In A Gift From Earth, by Larry Niven, the authorities don't use physical torture because it would ruin the suspect's use to the body banks. Instead, they use sensory deprivation.
- In Patrick Robinson's USS Seawolf, PLA soldiers resort to, among other things, beating The Captain and waterboarding his executive officer (who happens to be the President's son) to elicit info on the titular submarine.
- The new Battlestar Galactica likes this one, particularly the episode "Taking a Break From All Your Worries," including a particularly memorable scene involving the ever-present threat of airlocking.
- Made even more memorable because President Roslin comes in and berates Starbuck that the Cylon she is interrogating is still a person, she speaks kindly to him and offers the forgiveness and friendship of humanity... and puts him out the airlock once his threat is exposed as false. "One does not keep defective machines".
- During an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank waterboards Dee in a urinal. His own daughter. And it's played for laughs.
- Dee and Dennis aren't actually Frank's children. Not that it would matter to him if they were.
- Lots of this in The Seventies action show The Professionals.
- One episode of Over There dealt with a shadowy Special Forces officer forcing the unit to help him do this towards an insurgent.
- The focal point of the Law and Order Special Victims Unit episode Harm.
- There is at least one example in 24 (which would otherwise use the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique instead). In Day 8, Jack threatened a suicide bomber that if he kills himself, Jack will escort his mother to the detonation site, absorbing a lethal dose of Cs-137 in five seconds.
- Homeland has an interrogation scene after the prisoner has been deprived of sleep from sporadic Death Metal blasts.
- Leverage has an entire episode where these are the subject. Elliot, meanwhile, is more fond of Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique...and better at it
- In the Burn Notice episode "do no harm", Michael Westen comments on how torture doesn't work - then throws someone out a window to convince someone else to talk. (The thrown one is caught by a wire attached to the chair to which he's tied.)
- In one episode of Batman: The Animated Series Batman used a minion's phobia about germs to extract information by threatening to drop a jar containing a liquid culture of a disease on the minion head. Of course it was a bluff, the jar merely containing a sample of completely ordinary seawater, but the fear it caused was as real as if the jar actually had contained deadly germs.
- Inverted in Metalocalypse with a scene of a teenage Dethklok fan being forced to listen to Dethklok's music at obscenely high volume as punishment for pirating the track on the internet; he suffers severe psychological damage and becomes a villain shortly afterward, and the torture scene isn't treated as anything but a torture scene. (Of course, for Metalocalypse, it's really par for the course.)
- In Justice League (with a crossover with Batman Beyond) the elderly Bruce Wayne pulls the captive Ghoul away from Batman (his younger self), who had been dangling the villain over the side of a building. "I can't believe I was ever that green," he scoffs. "This is how you interrogate a suspect." Wayne hefts his cane and advances toward Ghoul. One fade-to-black later, the villain has confessed not only to the organization and capabilities of the Jokerz, but to being a bed-wetter until he was fourteen.
- Shows up in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic of all shows. In "Party of One", Pinkie Pie goes insane when she thinks her friends ditched her party because they hate her. She lures Spike into her house/lair with gems and then interrogates him as brutally as an E/I show for kids will allow. Her pet gator grabs his tail to keep him from escaping, she shines a bright lamp on him in a pitch black room, and eventually she starts screaming at him and giving him a Death Glare while demanding that he confess. Spike (who had no idea what a Perp Sweat was in the first place) is so freaked out that he starts confessing random things. Finally Pinkie Pie snaps and demands that he confirm her suspicions that her friends hate her. Spike has no idea what she is talking about but confirms it anyway to get her to back off.
- In The Powerpuff Girls, the people of Townsville get Lenny Baxter to reveal where he has the girls by causing him to faint from the sight of kids removing the packaging from his collectibles.