Prof David Tombs, of the University of Otago, said to understand its use by agencies like the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the politics behind the act needed to be understood.
Prof Tombs this week gave the second Archibald Baxter Memorial Peace Lecture.
Mr Baxter, of Dunedin, was New Zealand's best-known conscientious objector, and along with three other New Zealanders endured Field Punishment No1, colloquially known as crucifixion, in France in 1917 for refusing to fight.
Prof Tombs, a professor of theology and public issues, told an audience of about 50 people on Monday, World Peace Day, of links between torture used by the CIA after September 11, 2001, and torture practised in Latin America last century.
He said 2014 findings of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into the CIA's detention and interrogation programme showed methods used by the CIA, like water-boarding, did not result in intelligence or co-operation from detainees.
It found the interrogations had been brutal, and eventually damaged the United States' standing in the world.
''In some ways, it does not tell us anything new about torture,'' Prof Tombs said.
That, however, was important.
The CIA already knew torture would not result in ''actionable, reliable intelligence'', and would result in false answers, from detainees, who would tell their torturers whatever they wanted to hear - anything to stop the torture.
The committee's report said in the six-year period, no actionable information had been uncovered. Prof Tombs said he studied the results of torture in countries including Brazil, Chile and Argentina.
In Latin America, torture was designed not to get information but to intimidate the wider society, or send a message to troops it could happen to them.
In the same way, the CIA torture sent a message violence against the US would be countered by extreme counter-violence.
Prof Tombs said torture was a good way to get a confession, though those confessions may not be truthful.
Truthful or not, the confessions could be used to justify claims subversion was real, and to swing public opinion.
The lessons from Latin America showed why the CIA continued to torture for six years.
''You need to understand the politics involved.''
In the same way Archibald Baxter was tortured by authorities who wanted ''submission, not service''.