WRT Manning: I feel a bit bad for him. I absolutely understand that there's a need for secrecy in war-fighting, and I appreciate that the military has the ability to enforce that secrecy with punishment. I still feel bad for him. This young man was not in the best frame of mind, and it sounds like he really thought he was trying to do something right.
It's not just the military information though. Manning was leaking diplomatic information to wikileaks. Thousands upon thousands of pages of documents of diplomatic cables given over to a foreign entity with no oversight whatsoever. Many of those cables containing information and messages that were extremely sensitive and were made public without any attempt to redact or withhold the sensitive information.
There are needs for secrecy in war. Diplomacy. Business. Personal affairs. And no matter how much Julian Assange argues, you can't really have a world where everything is in the open. There are still files from WWI that are secretive because they contain information that might cause international incidents. When you have countries fighting over centuries old conflicts and warring over ancient religions you might want to bury things that could escalate conflict. This was the rational behind hiding Bin Laden's dead body photos. Rather than make him a martyr and have his image being a rallying symbol for terrorists the government censored it.
You think if wikileaks had photos of Bin Laden that they wouldn't release them? They don't care about security of the free world. It's a little game to them to show how powerful they are. "Look at us.....we got Bin Laden's photos WORLD EXCLUSIVE". They are no different than the tabloid media who exploit any (personal) information just for magazine sales and internet clicks.
WRT the material: The first strike seems entirely legit. The one that killed the two Reuters people. They met with armed belligerents, at night, in an area where they knew there was fighting. Everyone wishes they hadn't been in the mix when our pilots and gunners did what they were supposed to. This, however, is going to happen when you have reporters pushing the limits of sanity to get a story in a war zone. Beyond that, it's chopper gunners shooting at a group of enemy combatants with RPG's and small arms, just like they're supposed to.
If three armed bank robbers storm a bank are you going to rush into that same bank with a ski-mask and a camera so that you can cover the story better? These journalists rush into war zones dressed like militants. And they carry cameras that are tripod mounted or have telephoto lenses that look like weapons from far away. When you're in a helicopter and you've just seen a man firing a weapon from the sky, then another man runs next to him with a two foot long metal object, are you going to risk that being an RPG if it is one, instead of a camera?
WRT the handling of the material: The military's approach to the material (denying FOIA requests) was shady, but a pretty obvious function of, "err on the side of keeping stuff secret." You can't have war without casualties, and any time it happens somewhere where people live, some of those are going to be bad kills.
That said, handling of the material was absolutely atrocious. The "collateral murder" video was a selectively edited, perversely annotated, propaganda piece. Every effort was made to point out there were two people with cameras, not AK's, and no efforts (at all) were made to point out the loaded RPG's and small arms carried by the people they were meeting.
The government is fucked either way. They hold onto the material and everyone assumes the worst. They release the material and wikileaks will selectively edit the information just like the 'collateral murder' video to fit their agenda. The military loses every single time. No matter what the agenda that the media wants pushed is pushed. The military has to defend themselves from something, either withholding information, or "MURDERING INNOCENT BABIES".