Was it in the public interest that the world should have eventually seen the raw footage of what happened? You bet. Was it acutely embarrassing for the US military and government? Of course. Was the act of revelation espionage or journalism? You know the answer.
We have two people to thank for us knowing the truth about how those Reuters employees died, along with 10 others who ended up in the crosshairs of the laughing pilots that day: Chelsea Manning, who leaked it, and Julian Assange, who published it. But the price of their actions has been considerable. Manning spent seven years in jail for her part in releasing that video, along with a huge amount of other classified material she was able to access as an intelligence analyst in the US army. Assange has been indicted on 17 new counts of violating the Espionage Act, with the prospect that he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
As editor of the Guardian, I worked with Assange when we jointly (along with newspapers in the US and Europe) published other material Manning had leaked. Vanity Fair called the resultant stories “one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years… they have changed the way people think about how the world is run”. The stories were, indeed, significant – but the relationship with Assange was fraught. We fell out, as most people eventually do with Assange. I found him mercurial, untrustworthy and dislikable: he wasn’t keen on me, either. All the collaborating editors disapproved of him releasing unredacted material from the Manning trove in September 2011. Nevertheless, I find the Trump administration’s use of the Espionage Act against him profoundly disturbing.