As noted in the comments, torture has been used for several reasons, including but not limited to, eliciting false confessions, punishment, humiliation, hegemony and political control, and as a political theology doctrine, also a sacrifice. Large swathes of the torture landscape in the twentieth century seems to be guided by the last mentioned motivation.
However, even for extraction of information, the method has been advocated long ago.
Torture has long been employed by well-meaning, even reasonable people
armed with the sincere belief that they are preserving civilization as
they know it. Aristotle favored the use of torture in extracting
evidence, speaking of its absolute credibility, and St. Augustine also
defended the practice. Torture was routine in ancient Greece and Rome,
and although methods have changed in the intervening centuries, the
goals of the torturer- to gain information, to punish, to force an
individual to change his beliefs or loyalties, to intimidate a
community- have not changed at all.
On the question of effectiveness of torture as means of eliciting information- the methods used were not seen as torture. They were seen as effective "pressures". These were "scientific" methods that could provide results. These were a part of "Verschärfte Vernehmung" and directives to that effect were in fact given.
In June 1942, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo, authorized the use of limited physical abuse during interrogations, ‘where preliminary investigation had indicated that the person could give information on important matters such as subversive activities’.
The methods employed to make the victims talk were always the same.
They were forced to kneel on a triangular bench while a torturer
climbed on their shoulders; they were suspended with the arms tied
behind their backs until they fainted; they were kicked, thrashed with
knouts, or struck with the fist; they were revived by flinging a
bucket of water over them when they fainted. Their teeth were filed,
their nails torn out, and they were burned with cigarette stubs and on
occasions with a soldering lamp. The electric torture was also
practiced: a wire was attached to the ankles while a second wire was
run over the most sensitive parts of the anatomy. The soles of the
feet were slashed with a razor and the wounded man was then forced to
walk on salt. Pieces of cotton wool soaked in petrol were placed
between the toes and fingers and lit. The torture of the bathtub
consisted in plunging the patient into a bath of icy water, his hands
handcuffed behind his back, and keeping his head under water until he
was on the point of drowning. He was dragged to the surface by the
hair and, if he still refused to speak, was immediately plunged under
So definite methods existed, which means that a "science", however ill-formed, was developing. In fact, the later methods of the US and other countries in what was termed Enhanced interrogation techniques seem to be an extension of these methods.
Some of these "refined" methods were developed by French collaborator, Frederic Martin, known as Rudy de Mérode, and Georges Delfane, alias Masuy, whose offices were at 101 avenue Henri Martin. He is reputed to have invented the torture of the bathtub. (Later developed further by the US).
Kalus Barbie became a member of the Nazi Party in 1937 and joined the
SD (Security Service), a branch of the SS in 1935. After German forces
overran Western Europe, Barbie served in the Netherlands, and, in
1942, was made chief of the Gestapo Department IV in Lyon – which was
then a stronghold and hiding place of the French resistance. In this
position, he was active in chasing French resistants, promoting the
torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. He personally
tortured prisoners whom he interrogated.
However, only much later did "confession models" come to be studied, as psychoanalysis came into play. These included :
Interaction Process Model
Cognitive-Behavioral Model, etc.
The KGB possibly had more refined techniques. In any case absolutist states have unbelievably good homework on every area, community, family and individual. It is the rare exception that needs to be questioned. However, Hinkle's above mentioned report provides a detailed analysis of the structure and practices of the Russian KGB and the state police in Communist China in the 1950s. On the basis of input from experts, and former Communist prisoners, Wolff and Hinkle detail out Communist arrest and interrogation systems from investigation to “trial.”
Some of the methods used by KGB:
Night Interrogation- Prisoners interrogated at night
Sensory Deprivation- use of blackout goggles, earmuffs, hooding
Persuasion- “Futility,” “emotional love” approach
Foul Language - Prisoners cursed during interrogation
Psychological Contrast- “Fear up, harsh,” “Mutt and Jeff” approach
On November 16 1971, the Belfast tortures and the "five techniques" came to light. The British government detained for 9 days and tortured fourteen Northern Irish men. During the time of their detention they were subjected to "five techniques" – food deprivation, sleep deprivation, hooding, noise bombardment, and forced standing. The government tried to defend their position by claiming these men were criminals.
The refinement of many "methods" seem to have attained fruition by the time of KUBARK where all these interrogation methods have been discussed. See also this.
These methods include (but are not limited to):
Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli
Threats and Fear
Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis
There have always been supporters as well as detractors of such methods within agencies. Individual views vary widely.
As mentioned earlier, the support for torture has come in many forms.
It's not torture until it's very painful (causes death) or causes injury to internal organs. By using this logic the supporters of torture want to give a greater area of freedom to torture.
It's okay because it it is for a greater good and saves more lives in the long run by extracting crucial information. (Logical).
In fact there is a formula:
W x L x P / T x O
W = whether the agent is the wrongdoer
L = the number of lives that will be lost if the information is not provided
P = the probability that the agent has the relevant knowledge
T = the time available before the disaster will occur (“immediacy of the harm”)
O = the likelihood that other inquiries will forestall the risk
Torture can be justified in this mathematical equation.
Ref: Torture: When the Unthinkable Is Morally Permissible
As always, there are opposite views.
The criticism that torture does not work has been advanced by many.
The most persuasive paper on the issue is that written by Philip N. S.
Rumney. The paper is well measured in its analysis and well researched
in its scope. Rumney concludes that torture suspects often do not
divulge the information that is sought from them.
To clarify- this was cited not as the sole research that says torture is ineffective. It is simply the "backstory" that the counterview can effectively counter:
There is no relevant evidence that torture cannot work in the
circumstances we outline. The “evidence” to the contrary that is
proffered by the critics has been overstated in terms of its relevance
to our proposal. The empirical data cited by the critics regarding the
outcome of other incidents of torture can be dismissed on the basis
that it occurred in a different setting to that we propose.
Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has claimed that
rendition has “prevented attacks in Europe” and “saved innocent
lives.” Former President Clinton in October 2006 also stated that in
extreme cases the president should be able to sanction the use of