(CNSNews.com) – As a congressional committee prepares to hear what is expected to be explosive testimony Wednesday from State Department whistleblowers on last September’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, a petition demanding that the administration come clean about the incident attracted 25,000 signatures in just 24 hours.
As of early Wednesday morning, the total number of people to have signed the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) petition had passed 70,000.
“With continually changing stories and inaccurate accounts, the American people have been misled,” reads the petition addressed to President Obama. “Terrorists attacked American soil – our embassy – we need the truth and accountability.”
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed when heavily-armed militants attacked the consulate in Libya’s second city on September 11, the 11th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on America.
An Accountability Review Board (ARB) probe into the incident, set up by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under former ambassador Thomas Pickering, failed to satisfy many lawmakers and others, with questions remaining about security decisions before the deadly attack, the failure to respond during the attack, and the administration’s response afterwards.
Five days after the attack the White House deployed ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to do the round of Sunday television talk shows, where she repeatedly stated that, according to the best information available at the time, the assault had been a spontaneous reaction to an obscure online video mocking Mohammed, rather than a planned terrorist attack.
Critics suspect those talking points were crafted to downplay the terrorism angle, which did not suit the narrative of a diminishing terror threat in the closing stages of the election campaign.
“Did the administration lie to cover up its failures and downplay the terrorist threat in the middle of an election season? The American people deserve answers. The American people deserve the truth,” ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said Tuesday.
On Wednesday the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee will hear from Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya at the time of the attack, who has reportedly told congressional investigators, “I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning.”
According to CBS News, Hicks told the investigators that, as he watched Rice attribute the incident to protests over the Mohammed video, “I’ve never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day. I never reported a demonstration. I reported an attack on the consulate.”
Also scheduled to testify before the House committee are Mark Thompson, deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau; and Eric Nordstrom, who was the department’s regional security officer in Libya at the time.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Monday demurred several times when asked to comment on the credibility of Hicks and Thompson.
In reply to a question Ventrell did acknowledge – “broadly speaking” – that the position held by Hicks at the time was a key one: “The deputy chief of mission is somebody who is the number two person at a mission, and they act as the chargé in the ambassador’s absence and have a critical role in the mission.”
Thompson, a former U.S. Marine, has held the position of deputy coordinator for operations in the counterterrorism bureau for seven years, and has been with the State Department for 17 years.
“In this position, Mr. Thompson advises senior leadership on operational counterterrorism matters, and ensures that the United States can rapidly respond to global terrorism crises,” according to his State Department bio.